State budget beefs up Holocaust assistance
Jewish community leaders were pleased with a New Jersey state budget that included long-sought-for appropriation increases.
Chief among them was a doubling of assistance for Holocaust survivors, from $200,000 to $400,000.
Other welcome items on the Jewish community’s agenda was an increase in funding for technology equipment and training at private and parochial schools, as well as for nursing services at nonpublic schools.
Gov. Chris Christie signed the $32.5 billion state budget June 30.
“We are very grateful to the Legislature and the governor’s office for providing this increase in survivors’ assistance. It is absolutely needed,” said Mark Levenson, chair of the State Association of Jewish Federations and an attorney at the Newark firm of Sills Cummis & Gross.
“Our communities have been struggling to provide these funds in these tough times. For me and for any of us, Holocaust survivors’ assistance is such an important need.”
The funds will be allocated through the NJ Association of Jewish Family Service Agencies. The Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program funds provide the 7,695 survivors in New Jersey with a safety net for a range of services, including outreach, eligibility and needs assessment, all-inclusive case management, supportive counseling, and in-home care.
The funding increase has special meaning for Max Kleinman, executive vice president/CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and the son of survivors.
“I want to thank Senate and Assembly leaders and legislators and Gov. Christie for providing this vital support for Holocaust survivors to live out their remaining years with dignity,” said Kleinman. “As we mount a fund-raising campaign within the Jewish community to comprehensively address their needs, it’s gratifying to know that we have a great partner with the State of New Jersey.”
Gordon Haas, CRC chair, agreed. “This funding will help those who survived the horrors of the Holocaust live out their final years with the support they need. We know that budget decisions are difficult, and we are grateful for the support,” Haas said.
Both Haas and Kleinman said the achievement was a “team effort” led by the CRC, State Association, and fellow state federations.
“We were very happy when the State Legislature approved the amount of the funding,” said Melanie Roth Gorelick, director of the CRC, “and despite other budgetary pressures, the governor signed the bill.”
Among other priority items on the Jewish community’s agenda was an increase of $2.441 million for the Nonpublic School Technology Initiative, for a total of $5,441,000, and an additional $2.159 million in funding for nonpublic schools’ nursing services, for a total of $14,311,000.
Jewish day schools draw on the funding for their non-religious programming.
“In the first budget Gov. Christie enacted, he eliminated a $40 per student allocation,” said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the State Association.
Working with a coalition that included the Orthodox Union and New Jersey Catholic Conference, he said, “three years later we managed to get $20 per student, and every year we try to get the funding restored to the original $40 level.”
The OU, welcoming the new budget, estimated it would mean $12 per student for technology — an increase of 60 percent over last year’s state budget — and $17 per student for nursing services — an increase of 22 percent over last year.
Josh Pruzansky, NJ regional director for OU Advocacy, said the budget will allow nonpublic schools to employ full-time nurses.
The State Association, involved in another coalition of anti-poverty agencies, was unsuccessful in efforts to expand state participation in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The governor vetoed a measure that would have added food assistance to the program.
“Before the new federal farm bill, anyone eligible for $1 a year in LIHEAP benefits was eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, a benefit formerly called Food Stamps,” said Toporek. “Under a new farm bill passed earlier this year, the minimum was kicked up to $21, but the state must buy into it, and it was vetoed by the governor.”
Yet, said Toporek, he and other leaders have not given up hope.
“We can try to pass legislation which the governor will probably veto,” he said. “We can sit down with legislators and see what else we can do, possibly through the Department of Community Affairs to find some additional monies. We will explore all avenues to see if we can get the monies that are needed.”