As a national leader in the field of seniors and aging issues, B’nai B’rith International was invited by our partner Leading Age to participate in a tour of several Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 202 senior housing buildings with Congressional staffers and discuss the importance of this government program.
B’nai B’rith’s Director of Aging Policy Rachel Goldberg and Associate Director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services Janel Doughten, along with Alayna Waldrum of Leading Age, were part of the tour and discussion, explaining what Section 202 housing is, why it is so important and why it is imperative that Congress restore funding to this essential program in the federal budget.
The purpose of the tour was to put a face on why the Section 202 buildings for moderate-to-low-income seniors are so important, and why funding to build more of these homes across the United States should be restored to the federal budget and made a priority. The Congressional delegations often hear statistics and pleas to restore the funding, but until they see the buildings, what they provide, and meet the residents, it is easier to dismiss. By giving these staffers a direct look, and an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the program, B’nai B’rith hopes the staffers came away with a greater urgency to address this issue.
The first building toured was St. Mary’s Court in downtown Washington, D.C., where Doughton serves as the vice president of the building’s board of directors. The group met with residents, the manager and the service coordinator of the building. St. Mary’s Manager Margaret Pully gave an overview of the building, including demographics of the residents, meal program and the issues with the long waitlist to live in the building. The service coordinator, Ceila Wolter, talked about her wide range of interactions with the residents, from helping a hoarder de-clutter an apartment to making sure someone with a chronic medical issue or someone recently returned from the hospital has the necessary medical care.
The second property congressional staffers toured was the Samuel J. Simmons NCBA Estates (National Caucus and Center on Black Aged). On the bus ride from St. Mary’s Court to NCBA Estates, staffers had a chance to ask Leading Age staff and Doughten questions on the particulars of these buildings and the program, such as why are waitlists closed? How are service coordinators funded?
Waldrum explained that waitlists in many buildings are closed because there is such a demand for this housing that the lists just got too long. Once it is determined there is more than a two year wait for an apartment, most buildings close the list. They do not want to give false hope to people hoping to move into a building, when the list length means it most likely will not happen.
Answering the question of how to fund a service coordinator, Waldrum and Doughten informed Congressional staffers that the position was often funded through a HUD grant, but when the federal budget cut the funding to build 202 projects, the money for service coordinators was also mostly eliminated. Some buildings are able to get the costs of a service coordinator built into their operating budget, but not all buildings are able to do that. The members of a building’s board of directors are the volunteer fundraisers for that complex, and they also work with staff to prepare grant applications and other means of funding.
Although a wonderful building with creative staff, NCBA Estates is an example of what happens when money is cut from Section 202 housing. The wait list has been closed for two years and there is no service coordinator.
B’nai B’rith International is the largest national Jewish sponsor of low-income senior housing in the United States, with 42 buildings in 26 communities, encompassing more than 4,000 apartment units and serving more than 8,000 people. Operating the Senior Housing Network since 1968, B'nai B'rith complexes are open to all qualified individuals as defined by HUD, without regard to race, color, religion, sex, handicap or national origin. The B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Network is just a small slice of the almost 400,000 seniors in more than 8,000 buildings throughout the country served by Section 202.
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:
After reviewing the Obama administration’s Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) budget, B’nai B’rith International has mixed reactions to areas affecting seniors and the low-income Americans, as well as matters of international policy—both spheres in which B’nai B’rith is extremely active.
B’nai B’rith is pleased the administration is calling for a “clean reallocation” of funds within the payroll tax, allowing the disability and retirement benefits to be on equal and secure footing until 2033 and avoiding a disability shortfall in 2016. Reallocations among parts of the Social Security program are not uncommon and have occurred 11 times in the past.
B’nai B’rith is also satisfied to see that the administration sought to undo many of the sequester cuts in domestic discretionary programs. The administration was able to do so without gutting such mandatory programs as Social Security and Medicare that affect the elderly. Other promising ideas gleaned from the FY16 budget include allowing the U.S. Department or Health and Human Services to negotiate prices on cutting edge drugs like “biologics” for Medicare beneficiaries and reducing out of pocket prescription spending.
We remain quite concerned, however, about provisions appearing again in this year’s budget that would shift more costs, including health costs, to older adults and the disabled. Among these worrisome cost-shifting measures are ill-conceived penalties for disability beneficiaries who also receive unemployment insurance, changes to the Medicare’s premium structure that increase costs for many beneficiaries and a proposal that would penalize people who buy certain types of supplemental Medicare coverage.
While we continue to work toward fully restoring the Department of Housing and Urban Development program that has funded the construction of thousands of rental apartments for low-income elders, we are pleased to see the administration’s budget would continue to fund operating and service coordination expenses for existing buildings across the country. B’nai B’rith is the largest national Jewish sponsor of low-income housing for seniors in the United States.
In the international policy realm, the administration’s $54.8 billion foreign aid budget request for FY16 is a welcome reversal of past cuts to international affairs. However, the total request level represents only a modest increase at a time when many important U.S. programs overseas are already significantly underfunded. Additionally, it is unfortunate that humanitarian assistance is down 13 percent at a time when conflicts are on the rise and victims of natural disasters desperately need help.
B’nai B’rith does welcome the administration’s call for a 29.2 percent increase in the Economic Support Fund that will bolster strategic economic assistance to address global crises and countries in conflict, including Ukraine and its neighbors; and combating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Aid to Israel, at $3.1 billion, will remain the same as in Fiscal Year 2014 and Fiscal Year 2015, continuing U.S. support for the only democracy in the Middle East.
B’nai B’rith calls on Congress to fund at least the full amount of the administration’s international affairs budget request.