Shalom Life | September 30, 2014

New Legislation Endorsed to Meet Urgent Needs of Holocaust Survivors

New Act Would Provide for Tens of Thousands of Survivors Living Near Poverty Level

By: Jessica Pallay

Published: July 11th, 2012 in News » World

New Legislation Endorsed to Meet Urgent Needs of Holocaust Survivors
The Jewish Federations of North America applaud Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), and original cosponsor Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), for introducing legislation that aims to support programs meeting the urgent needs of aging Holocaust survivors. The Responding to Urgent needs of Survivors of the Holocaust (RUSH) Act would provide support for the tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors living near poverty in the U.S. who need services to age in place. The legislation builds on the goals outlined in a Congressional resolution (H. Con. Res. 323) that passed in the House of Representatives in 2010 and follows the introduction of legislation seeking to achieve the same goals in the House of Representatives (H.R. 2786) by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in 2011.

“As this special community ages, we must ensure their dignity by empowering them to live as independently as possible, in peace and safety,” said Kathy Manning, chair of the Board of Trustees of JFNA. “This important legislation would boost collective efforts to protect these courageous survivors.”

Aging Holocaust survivors have needs similar to those of other older Americans. However, the consequences of premature or unnecessary institutionalization can be more severe for these survivors. While institutionalized care is beneficial for many people, for the survivor population this type of care can reintroduce the loss of privacy, loss of autonomy, and the loss of control into their lives. Reports have indicated that the sights, sounds, smells or practices of institutionalization, such as showers, can trigger residual psychological effects from experiences from the Holocaust. The RUSH Act can help survivors remain in their homes for as long as possible.

If passed, the RUSH Act would amend the Older Americans Act in the following key ways:

•Add Holocaust survivors to the list of groups that receive preference for services under the Older Americans Act

•Designate a person within the Administration for Community Living to have responsibility for implementing services to Holocaust survivors

•Establish a grant program for nonprofit organizations to increase and improve transportation services for Holocaust survivors.

“Enabling Holocaust survivors to age in place is vital for their health, comfort and security and brings dignity to this vulnerable population,” said William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of JFNA. “We are pleased that the Senate took a step in the right direction today toward reaching this important goal.”

Of the approximately 127,000 Holocaust survivors living in the United States today, three-quarters are over the age of 75 and about two-thirds live alone. Many of these survivors struggle to afford basic needs, such as adequate food and healthcare; more than half of the survivors arriving in the U.S. after 1967 from the former Soviet Union fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, meaning they earn less than $21,660 annually. Compounding the problem is the fact that atrocities during the Holocaust have caused so many to survive alone, leading to smaller families to lean on.

JFNA was pleased to coordinate meetings between Holocaust survivors and members of Congress who worked on this legislation. At these meetings, survivors and their social workers discussed their greatest needs and emphasized the many ways that aging in place is beneficial to their health and happiness. In addition to improving lives, aging in place for low-income seniors saves the government money by preventing costly hospital and nursing home stays paid for by Medicaid.

"The needs of this last generation are growing in scope and intensity and it is up to organizations such as ours to step up and serve the many in this country that are surviving alone,” said Barry C. Klickstein, chair of the Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies, which represents human services agencies serving Holocaust survivors in North America. “This support would help our members continue their critical work for these heroic survivors.”

In addition to vital support services, the legislation would also improve the nutrition section of the Older Americans Act. Specifically, it would amend the act to provide meals that meet dietary requirements based on religious, cultural or ethnic requirements.

JFNA is dedicated to working with Congress, the Administration and nonprofit organizations to ensure that Holocaust survivors get the support and care they need to live in their communities with comfort and security.

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