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.
Do we have a final head count for the Seder? Can you pull the folding table and chairs out of the basement? Who’s bringing the gefilte fish? Do we have enough matzah? These are typical questions cropping up this time of year as the preparation for Passover is underway. And while these conversations are being held in many households across America and the world, not everyone is so fortunate.
For the poor and elderly, Passover may be a difficult time. It can be a time that conjures thoughts about family that moved far away or passed on. It could bring to light an illness preventing someone from attending a Seder or the fact that there is no supermarket filled with kosher specialty items for Passover nearby. Some are living on a fixed income so the extra cost for the kosher-for-Passover product stymies them from setting up a Seder of their own.
B’nai B’rith leaders saw this happening in the late 1960s and created a program called Project H.O.P.E. (Help Our People Everywhere) as a means to help those who are unable to obtain and prepare the necessary holiday fare.
The program evolved over time, but continues to include the essentials of food for the holiday such as matzah, eggs, grape juice, canned goods, jam, cookies, oil, gefilte fish and horseradish for their Passover table. In some communities, there is fresh or cooked chicken included.
This year B’nai B’rith will distribute more than 2,600 kosher-for-Passover packages.
“Project H.O.P.E. is one of the most impactful programs that B’nai B’rith has to offer,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said. “The genesis of it is uniquely B’nai B’rith. There was an unmet need with those unable to have a Passover meal and B’nai B’rith members rose up to fill that need, to help their neighbors, and eventually expanded the program to communities across the country.”
The program is currently underway with hundreds of volunteers already having turned out to buy, store, pack and deliver the food to those in need up and down the east coast. And these volunteers are not only B’nai B’rith members. Project H.O.P.E. works with community family service agencies, local Jewish social services and local synagogues to organize the people power it takes to perform a project of this scope. It also requires funding and B’nai B’rith is grateful to those who support this project each year. Donations are always welcome to ensure this project and allow for expansion.
“Once again Project H.O.P.E. has made a difference in the lives of our elderly who would not have had all of the Passover goodies,” Vivian Kantrow, director of development and community relations at the senior living community Tower One in New Haven, Conn., said of this year’s program. “You and your team really make a difference and on behalf of all of your friends at the Towers, a very big thank you!”
The community action project, created by B’nai B’rith leaders in Brooklyn, has expanded to communities throughout the Northeast and across the United States. The recipients include singles, couples, families, assisted living residents and group homes for the disabled. This year, in addition to distribution on Long Island, New York, the program is being held in Philadelphia, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, Michigan and Washington, D.C.
“Project H.O.P.E. is really a great example of what B’nai B’rith excels at as an organization,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “It gives us an opportunity to fulfill our commitment to helping communities through ‘gemilut chasadim’ by making Passover memorable and accessible for those who might have viewed the holiday as just another day on the calendar.”
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:
B’nai B’rith International is pleased to see movement from Congress on a permanent solution for paying doctors who treat Medicare patients and ending more than a decade’s worth of “doc fixes.” Since 2003, 17 of these short term fixes have been enacted by Congress, most recently blocking 21.2 percent payment cuts to doctors of Medicare patients. A permanent fix is long overdue, and B’nai B’rith is encouraged by the bipartisan, political will to agree on this legislation.
The sustainable growth rate formula (SGR) is the system that is currently in place for determining payment rate cuts and has been a flawed payment approach from the beginning. Congress votes every year to “fix” the SGR to stop it from taking effect.
B’nai B’rith favors a permanent fix and a replacement of this formula that moves toward incentives for doctors to provide a higher quality of care.
While listening to the outpouring of ideas in resolving this issue, B’nai B’rith does have concerns we hope both chambers of Congress will consider when reviewing the plan and before voting on a permanent fix.
One of those concerns is the absence of “extenders” in the bill. Extenders have been vital parts of all previous doc fixes, blocking other SGR-based cuts and caps on Medicare benefits, and extending the life of programs that help lower-income beneficiaries with their out of pocket costs. Extenders have a huge impact on low-income patients and it’s unclear what the fate of those programs would be in the permanent fix. If they are left out of a permanent fix, they lose their best annual chance to be addressed.
Another issue B’nai B’rith has encountered is the inclusion of “pay-fors” in the bill that shift $30 billion in costs directly onto beneficiaries and will most likely result in higher premiums for all future beneficiaries. Instead of shifting this cost onto Medicare patients other avenues should be pursued, such as prescription drug savings which would accrue to the Medicare program if Medicare negotiated lower drug prices.
B’nai B’rith has long been adamant about Congress passing a permanent solution to the broken SGR. In December 2014 B’nai B’rith helped draft a letter from the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations advocating to Sens. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell and Reps. John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi that very position. Click here to read the letter.
Image via Flickr
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.
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:
The 114th U.S. Congress is underway and among its first acts was the adoption of a new rule that will undercut Social Security as a whole and risks steep cuts in Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (DI) by late 2016.
During the summer, the 2014 Social Security and Medicare Trustees Report stated the DI trust fund is at risk of being depleted by 2016. The latest forecast is consistent with past reports, including expectations in the early 1980s when funding allocations between retirement and disability benefits were last adjusted. B’nai B’rith International urged Congress to increase the DI’s allocation from the payroll tax, funding which all Social Security programs share.
Reallocating funds from the payroll tax has been a measure routinely carried out 11 times over the life of the program. B’nai B’rith pushed for this reallocation to keep millions of disabled Americans, many of whom are also elderly, from experiencing benefit cuts of 20 percent in late 2016.
The new rule would essentially prohibit a “clean reallocation” bill and require any reallocation to be accompanied by proposals likely to cut benefits somewhere in the Social Security system. Proponents of the rule insist that is needed to protect the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund from moving funds to the “broken” DI system.
The disability system is not broken, and a reallocation is not only appropriate and routine, but also will not cause appreciable harm to retiree benefits. A reallocation of funds from the payroll tax to DI would actually put the fund on equal footing with OASI and other Social Security programs, making the benefits fully funded through 2033.
B’nai B’rith calls for the retraction of this rule change, and hopes we can have an honest debate about policy and ways to improve and expand Social Security benefits in the coming months.
See where B'nai B'rith International stands on the issues.