The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) represents 153 Jewish Federations and over 300 Network communities, which raise and distribute more than $3 billion annually for social welfare, social services and educational needs. The Federation system, collectively among the top ten charities in the world, protects and enhances the well-being of Jews and their neighbors worldwide through the values of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), Tzedakah (charity and social justice) and Torah (Jewish learning).
The power of the collective is one of our greatest assets, says JFNA President and CEO Jerry Silverman. With a network of communal organizations and institutions numbering in the thousands, we touch more lives than any Jewish organization in the world; and help millions of people across the globe every year.
This includes the work of local Federations that support thousands of agencies serving people of all backgrounds, including affiliated hospitals, nursing homes, community centers, family and childrens service agencies, and vocational training programs. Jewish Federations also fund and support programs in Israel and throughout the world, working to restore and rebuild Jewish life and help the most vulnerable groups, including immigrants, Holocaust survivors and others. Each year, Jewish Federations raise over $900 million collectively for their annual campaigns, and distribute over $2 billion from foundations and endowments.
During crisis situations in the U.S., Israel or other places in the world, JFNA expertly and efficiently responds. Working through its partner agencies, JFNA enables the Jewish community to aid victims of natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and tsunamis, as well as tragedies caused by terrorism, and other large scale calamities. Most recently, JFNA helped families affected by devastating floods in Detroit.
Advocating for a variety of issues
JFNAs Washington office is the advocacy arm that represents the interests of Federations. Drawing on the vast Federation network, the Washington office is able to have a greater impact with Congress and the Administration than individual Federations would.
Indeed, JFNA leaders in the capital are trailblazers in the fields of caregiving, aging, philanthropy, disability, foreign policy, homeland security and health care, and are advocates and partners with policymakers to impact these areas. Policies with which JFNA has made headway this year include efforts to help Holocaust survivors, promote incentives for charitable giving, and improve disability policy.
It takes relationships and effective advocacy in order to move policies along, and JFNAs presence in Washington is crucial to nurturing these relationships. It is especially important to continuously work with members of Congress, as relevant legislation passes through their committees of jurisdiction. Federation Missions from throughout the U.S. travel to Washington to advocate for top priorities. The Federation leaders meet with members of the Administration and their Senators and Representatives, and follow up with the elected officials in their hometowns. The Federations advocacy is broad based and influential. Their support for the SNAP program, for senior services and for our ally Israel makes it one of the most important voices for the Jewish community in our nations capital. I look forward to working with them for many years to come, says Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).
Helping Holocaust survivors
JFNAs Washington office is deeply committed to improving the plight of aging Holocaust survivors. A disproportionate number of elderly survivors lives in poverty and distress. Jewish Federations and family service agencies have been working closely with Congress and the Obama Administration to develop and implement initiatives aimed at improving the lives of Holocaust survivors living in poverty. These efforts resulted in important achievements, including the appointment of Aviva Sufian as Special Envoy for U.S. Holocaust Survivor Services at the Department of Health and Human Services, the deployment of AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers to enable communities to serve more survivors, and the Administrations proposal for a $5 million challenge grant to encourage public-private partnerships to support programs for Holocaust survivors.
Jewish Federations and family service agencies arranged for Holocaust survivors to meet directly with members of Congress, such as Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Florida and Senator Ben Cardin in Maryland. The Federation was instrumental in garnering support for the bipartisan RUSH Act (Responding to the Urgent Needs of Holocaust Survivors), which would provide critical services to Holocaust survivors living in the United States, elaborates Rep. Wasserman Schultz.
As a result of these meetings and conversations with survivors and social workers, the members of Congress were able to propose policies in the Older Americans Act that would help get needed services to survivors. Furthermore, when Vice President Joe Biden announced the White Houses initiative to help Holocaust survivors, he made the announcement at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committees 100th Anniversary celebration.
Opposing limits to charitable deductions
The Obama Administration has proposed many times to limit the tax savings that philanthropists get from itemized deductions, including gifts to charity. The Administration argues that the current system is unfair because people in higher tax brackets enjoy a bigger tax break than those in lower tax brackets. Most nonprofit leaders strongly oppose that initiative.
The Jewish Federations of North America was a founding member and leading force in organizing the Charitable Giving Coalition, a group uniting more than 100 national and regional charities that are fighting proposals to limit the charitable contribution deduction. JFNA has led numerous lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill to oppose such limits on incentives for charitable giving.
William C. Daroff, JFNA Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office, was one of the first national charity leaders to speak out against the limits. Daroff testified on behalf of JFNA at a Congressional hearing in April, 2013 on charitable tax issues and has written several articles and op-eds opposing limits to charitable deductions. Daroff has stated that he is dismayed by continued efforts to cut incentives for charitable giving. At a time when charities are helping more and more vulnerable people, who need more and more help, the government should not be placing a stumbling block in front of our ability to do so, Daroff insists.
Of the members of Congress who have interacted with JFNA on this issue, virtually none want to reduce the tax deduction for charitable contributions, and most understand how important social service agencies such as Federations and their partner agencies are on the ground, especially in these difficult economic times. Major Congressional allies in this fight can be found on both sides of the political aisle. For example, both the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), and ranking Republican member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) agree with JFNA that the incentive for giving provided by the charitable contribution deduction needs to be preserved in the current and any future income tax system.
Supporting people with disabilities
Jewish Federations and family service agencies also continue to expand their engagement in promoting policies and legislation that enhance the rights of people with disabilities, including through their support of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. This bi-partisan legislation encourages and assists people with disabilities and their families to save private funds for disability-related expenses through a tax-advantaged account to be used for supporting their health, independence and quality of life. The funds saved in an ABLE account will supplement, but not supplant, benefits provided through private insurance, the Medicaid program, the Supplemental Security Income program, the beneficiarys employment, and other sources.
JFNA and affiliated agencies have worked with Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and other bipartisan leaders in both the House and Senate to advance this legislation, and look forward to this legislation receiving a vote before the end of the year. As a Member of Congress, and as the mom of a son with Down syndrome, I am proud to stand beside the Jewish Federations of North America as they fight to make life better for our most vulnerable, says Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. They work tirelessly to educate lawmakers on the importance of disability policy and to advance legislation that would empower those with special needs. The Jewish Federations encourage those with disabilities to break barriers and seek new opportunities in all aspects of Jewish life. Simply put: there are few organizations that have such a tremendous and immeasurable impact here on Capitol Hill, she concludes.
For more information about JFNAs Washington office and its activities, go to www.jewishfederations.org.