This article by B'nai B'rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs Adriana Camisar originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.
U.S. President Donald Trump did the right thing when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Jerusalem has been central to the Jewish people for 3,000 years and the capital of the State of Israel since 1949. And it will remain the capital of Israel under any peace agreement, even if the definitive boundaries of the city are subject to negotiation.
Trump was also complying with US law, as the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 called for the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In addition, last June, the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem that called upon the president and all US officials to abide by the provisions of the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Therefore, this was a legitimate, sovereign decision by an American president. In this regard, the UN General Assembly resolution adopted on December 21 that opposed this decision was presumptuous, to say the least.
An analysis of Latin American and Caribbean votes, though, shows an important number of countries did not oppose the US decision.
In fact, of 19 Latin American countries, nine did not support the resolution: Guatemala and Honduras voted against; Argentina, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama and Paraguay abstained; and El Salvador was suspiciously absent.
With regard to the 15 members of the Caribbean community, also known as CARICOM, seven did not support the resolution: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago abstained; and St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Lucia were absent.
Before the General Assembly vote, both Trump and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the US would cut off financial aid to any countries that voted in favor of the resolution. This message was heavily criticized by the press and in diplomatic circles.
After the vote, many commentators said the strategy did not work. When it comes to Latin America and the Caribbean, this is not quite true. Let’s analyze each case: Guatemala and Honduras, which voted against the UN resolution, both have long-standing relationships with the State of Israel that have become even stronger in the last few years. Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales, it is worth noting, recently announced his decision – which could be followed by other countries in the region – to follow the US example and move the Guatemalan Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The abstentions of Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Paraguay, on the other hand, can be mainly explained by the general worldview of these governments and their fairly good relations with Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to strengthen ties with Latin America and his recent historic trip to the region – in which he visited Argentina, Colombia and Mexico and met with Paraguay’s president while in Argentina – could have had an impact, too.
But there is no doubt the administration’s message had an impact on the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, two countries that have consistently voted for every anti-Israel resolution at the UN CARICOM members that did not to support the resolution against Trump’s Jerusalem decision – with the exception of Haiti – usually vote at the UN against the US position on Israel. The fact that they were either absent or abstained from this resolution is striking and shows the administration’s message had a strong effect on this group of countries.
Adriana Camisar, is an attorney by training who holds a graduate degree in international law and diplomacy from The Fletcher School (Tufts University). She has been B'nai B'rith International Assistant Director for Latin American Affairs since late 2008, and Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs since 2013, when she relocated to Argentina, her native country. Prior to joining B'nai B'rith International, she worked as a research assistant to visiting Professor Luis Moreno Ocampo (former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court), at Harvard University; interned at the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs; worked at a children's rights organization in San Diego, CA; and worked briefly as a research assistant to the Secretary for Legal Affairs at the Organization of American States (OAS). To view some of her additional content, click here.
It has been a busy 2017 at the Center for Senior Services (CSS), and we are pleased to report on our advocacy efforts. Throughout the year we have been advocating on a wide range of senior issues relating to health care (Medicare and Medicaid), Social Security and affordable housing. Our work included meetings on Capitol Hill, organizing tours of B’nai B’rith sponsored buildings and co-sponsoring rallies on affordable housing. During the year we were excited that our work was noted by the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA), The Times of Israel and the New York Jewish Week.
Our advocacy efforts went into high gear in March when the White House’s proposed 2018 “skinny” budget was released, which called for a 13 percent reduction in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget. A few months later when the administration’s more detailed budget was announced, B’nai B’rith was severely disappointed that Section 202, which is housing that was developed for low-income seniors, was underfunded and the White House proposed a rental increase for residents.
Staying on top of the issue, the CSS team started visiting senator and representative’s offices on Capitol Hill that represent B’nai B’rith sponsored buildings. Specifically, we met with offices that work on the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. These committees are responsible for writing legislation that funds rental subsidies for the Section 202 program. During the course of these meeting we explained to staff members how damaging the White House’s budget would be for low-income Section 202 residents. While the 2018 budget has not been finalized we are hopeful that our advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill will lead to the Section 202 program being funded more.
In addition, we followed up those visits by inviting members of Congress and their staff to tour B’nai B’rith Section 202 buildings throughout the country. We are pleased to report that Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) and Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), representing both political parties, toured our sponsored properties. Furthermore, three of the four members who visited B’nai B’rith sponsored buildings work on the Appropriations Committees. These tours were a fantastic opportunity for members of Congress to see the benefits of the Section 202 program, and gave residents a chance to speak with their elected representative. Residents were able to directly tell their member of Congress the vital role Section 202 housing plays in their lives.
B’nai B’rith was also pleased to co-host with LeadingAge the “Save HUD 202” Rally and partner with the National Low Income Housing Coalition for the “National Housing Day of Action” over the summer. These rallies took place on Capitol Hill and featured representatives and senators who spoke about the need for affordable housing. We were certainly delighted members of Congress who represent B’nai B’rith sponsored buildings attended the event.
Our advocacy during the course of the year didn’t just stop with affordable housing. We spoke out against the White House and Congress’ attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After analyzing various proposed bills, B’nai B’rith was very concerned how these policies could negatively impact seniors. For example, many of the proposed replacement bills would have cut critical funding to Medicaid, allowed older Americans to be charged more for insurance, repealed vital taxes that help fund Medicare and waive important regulations that protect health care consumers. We spoke out on these issues by releasing press releases, blogs and joined with liked minded organizations opposing this legislation in a full page advertisement in Politico.
Recently, B’nai B’rith has been very vocal against the recently passed tax reform legislation. We expressed serious reservations about this bill because of the damaging impact it could have on funding for Medicare and Medicaid attributable to rising deficits that will give cover to members of Congress to slash spending. In addition, the negative consequences repealing the ACA’s individual mandate will have on older Americans. We brought our concerns straight to congressional offices during our regular scheduled Capitol Hill visits regarding Section 202. However, we certainly applaud Congress for not eliminating the Low Income Housing Tax Credit which is critical for affordable housing construction, and the medical expense deduction which is incredibly important to countless seniors with high health care costs.
The CSS team embarks on 2018 looking to continue our success from 2017. We will certainly look to invite more members of Congress and their staff to B’nai B’rith sponsored buildings, and advocate for the Section 202 program and other policies that are vital to seniors.
B’nai B’rith International Senior Services Staff: Mark Olshan, associate executive vice president of B’nai Brith International and director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services; Janel Doughten, associate director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services; Breana Clark, senior program associate; Evan Carmen, assistant director for Aging Policy.
This piece originally appeared in B'nai B'rith Magazine's Winter 2017 issue. To read this and other stories from the issue, visit our magazine online here.
I’ve always thought of myself as a caring person, considerate of others and always thinking that we have a duty to be part of a society in which we respect and help one another where and when we can. Call me a do-gooder if you will, but please know that I am proud to wear that label.
With Congress back in session, I continue to be baffled by its continued attempt to turn back the clock in the face of such overwhelming evidence of the number of aging Americans who require assistance with finding a safe, secure place to live.
The United States used to have a national housing policy focusing in part on creating affordable housing for older persons of limited means. Section 202 of the Housing Act of 1959 was the only federal program that provided safe, affordable housing exclusively for low-income elderly.
The program was envisioned as a partnership between government and community-based nonprofits like B’nai B’rith to supply housing to these individuals. The government would supply the financial means to build the property, while the nonprofits would oversee the initial development and ongoing operations. Subsidies, such as Section 8 vouchers, would bridge the gap between what the tenant could afford and the cost of that apartment.
Over time, the funding mechanism for the program changed from a direct loan, with interest payments to the federal government, to a simple advance of funds for construction.
Since 1971, B’nai B’rith has been a partner with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in constructing and overseeing such properties. With 38 properties in 26 communities nationwide, we are the largest national Jewish sponsor of HUD-assisted senior housing. Our network comprises nearly 5,000 apartments available to more than 8,000 seniors.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the eligibility criteria were slightly refined. During the 1980s, “cost-containment” became the focus, and there was a shift to reducing the number of units being built and the overall construction cost. While budget driven, many of these decisions had an opposite effect. Having to replace and maintain systems cost more in the long term.
During the mid 1990s the program began to recognize and incorporate the physical and emotional needs of the residents, and the use of service coordinators become more prevalent.
With the aid of these professionals, residents were better able to obtain the support and services they might need to make aging-in-place more possible. HUD finally understood that providing some level of service support within the property often precluded a premature move to a more institutional setting for a resident, at a tremendous overall cost savings to society in general.
Even the definition of a well “independent” senior had changed. As these properties were basically apartments without medical or basic service supports when the program was initiated, one of the criteria for admittance into a HUD-assisted property was the ability to vacate your apartment in the event of an emergency. Today, residents are able to remain as long as they can direct the service supports around them to assist in vacating their apartment in the case of an emergency. Yet, today, nearly 40 percent of residents are considered frail and require assistance with some of the basic activities of daily living.
But, remaining in their homes with support beats having to move to a skilled-care or institutional facility many years before actually needing that level of medical support.
So, for a period of time, the program evolved and — despite severe budget cuts during the congressional efforts to reduce overall federal domestic spending — survive. Politicians from both sides of the aisle have taken pride in visiting these properties and publicly marvel at what they say is their tremendous value, not just for the individuals but for the whole community.
So, where do we stand now?
We know the country is growing older. The percentage of persons 65 and up is a larger percentage of the total population, growing from 35 million (12.5 percent) in 2000 to 49.5 million in 2016 (15 percent) to an expected 71.5 million (19.4 percent) by 2030. Compounding the issue is the increase in the number of persons 85 and older — 6.2 million in 2016, projected to grow to 6.9 million by 2020 due to our increased longevity.
But, the senior population’s sustained growth has not been matched by a corresponding growth in affordable housing. Currently, data show that there are at least 10 to 12 people on a waiting list for every available subsidized unit. The funding to create more of these properties has dried up. Currently, there are no federal dollars available to create new housing for this most vulnerable, growing population.
Where we housing advocates need to expand our efforts is to combat proposals currently being introduced in Congress that would charge current residents even more of their very low income to simply stay put. Even worse are attempts to cut subsidies completely, which could effectively throw current residents out of their apartments, and potentially into the street.
Remember, older persons must already have very low-incomes to qualify — below half of the area median income. Once deemed “income eligible,” they must pay 30 percent of their adjusted gross income for rent. If they have no income, they pay no rent. And we have a number of those individuals residing in our senior housing network. Bottom line is that these applicants were either homeless, near homeless, or at best, very low-income individuals.
Congress has recently debated amendments to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill that would reduce these subsidies while increasing tenants’ contributions from 30 to 35 percent of their meager incomes and require them to pay a minimum amount of rent, or lose the apartment entirely.
And, taking this even further, 139 House members voted for an amendment to reduce funds for project-based rental assistance by $266 million in the current fiscal year, thus jeopardizing approximately 3,000 apartments which could be affected by this action. Fortunately the amendment failed, but the threat remains.
The numbers are alarming, and the White House is threatening to make a bad situation worse. The administration’s budget proposals include the most dramatic cuts to HUD programs since the 1980s, gutting federal housing assistance and redirecting the savings to “higher priority areas.” What could be of higher priority than making certain that vulnerable older persons of very low income status have access to safe, affordable and adequate housing?
Mark D. Olshan, Ph.D. began his career with B’nai B’rith in 1983 when he was hired as its Director of Senior Housing. He currently serves as Director of the Center for Senior Services and Associate Executive Vice President of B’nai B’rith International. He was awarded the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award in 2000. To view some of his additional content, click here.
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