JCRC Hosts Beneficiary Briefings at Legislative Sendoff
As part of its ongoing advocacy efforts on behalf of the community and the Jewish people, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County invited State Senators, Representatives and their staff to meet with Jewish community leaders in advance of this year’s legislative session in Tallahassee. They gathered on January 31 at the Shirley & Barton Weisman Delray Community Center for the JCRC’s annual Legislative Sendoff to learn about needs of vulnerable local residents and funding priorities of some Jewish agencies that serve them. Joining the legislators were professional and lay leaders from the Federation, JCRC and beneficiary agencies.
Matthew Kutcher, JCRC Chair, greeted the guests, stressing the vital role the legislators continue to play in the growing partnerships among state government, the Federation and its beneficiary agencies.
Federation Board Chair Anne Jacobson further explained the legislators’ importance to the community, “For many decades a principal mission of our Federation has been to develop the financial resources needed to support programs for the elderly, for the hungry, for Holocaust survivors, and for those with special needs. We refer to these programs as Safety Net Services, a top priority of our fundraising efforts. Unfortunately, the needs of our residents exceed the resources we can develop on our own. Your support and the support of your colleagues in the Florida State Senate and House are critical to the welfare and survival of our elderly and infirm citizens and their families.”
Bernie Friedman, Esq., who has lobbied in Tallahassee for the Florida Association of Jewish Federations for more than 25 years, pointed to several successes of the past session. These included one-time funding for Holocaust survivors assistance; and employment training for those with intellectual disabilities; as well as the passage of strong anti-BDS and additional Iran sanctions legislation. Of concern this year is a smaller projected state budget, and further diminished state resources are anticipated in the following two years.
Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services (JFS) President & CEO, Danielle Hartman welcomed the guests to the Weisman Center, which receives 6,000 senior visits each month, or 350 per day. She thanked the legislators for their help with one-time supplemental Holocaust survivor funding last year and expressed the dire need to sustain the recurring funds JFS has been receiving. With 40% of local survivors in their 80s and 47% in their 90s, their needs are rapidly rising. Hartman also discussed the importance of addressing local hunger and mental health issues, as Florida continues to rank 49th in spending for mental health needs and many people go without needed care.
Jewish Association for Residential Care (JARC) Director of Program Services, Nancy Freiwald, thanked the legislators for their help in launching the new Community Works program, through which JARC clients are placed in supported employment in the community. Placements have been made at eight partnering local businesses, and several JARC clients have gone on to permanent employment at one of the sites. “With a 72% unemployment rate for disabled persons in Palm Beach County,” Freiwald said, “Community Works is an important step in the right direction.”
Andrea Kalkstein, an Associate Vice President at Federation, spoke about Federation Transportation Services (FTS), which provides door-to-door service that enables primarily very low-income seniors and persons with disabilities to get to medical appointments, hot kosher communal meals, shopping and other life-sustaining activities. FTS provides more than 55,000 trips a year to over 350 clients, but funding has continued to fluctuate while there are growing needs for this lifeline. Kalkstein stressed the importance of government partnership at different levels, highlighting the vital 5310 program through which FTS is able to maintain a growing and safe fleet of vehicles; the program allows vehicles to be purchased at 10% the actual cost.
The group then heard from State Senator Kevin Rader, and State Representatives Lori Berman, David Silvers and Emily Slosberg, who pledged their efforts to pursue and maintain funding for the agencies’ vital services. Also represented at the event were staff members from the offices of Congressman Ted Deutch, State Senator Bobby Powell, and State Representatives Joseph Abruzzo, Bill Hager and Matt Willhite, as well as Christine Shaw, Executive Director of the Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation office.
In closing, JCRC Vice Chair Chet Kay and JCRC Director Stuart Silver, Esq. recognized the officials and their staff for their instrumental work on behalf of the community and the Jewish people. “You are vital partners in our efforts,” said Kay. “The public should understand and appreciate what you do for those who need us.”
The JCRC will lead a visit to officials in Tallahassee as part of its ongoing advocacy efforts throughout the legislative session.