Maintaining Social and Human Services

Prior to the passage of the New Deal legislation in the 1930s and the Great Society in the 1960s, the federations already had an established network of social services. As government funding became available, these monies were combined with federation dollars, resulting in an expansion of services to meet growing needs in local communities. Over the years, Jewish agencies' reliance on government funding has increased. Today, for example, Jewish nursing homes derive 76 percent of their annual budget from government funding. The government funding of family service agencies and vocational services has also grown to keep pace with increased needs. As a result, the cuts at the federal and state levels threaten to change the way services are provided and how federations can support their beneficiary agencies in the next 100 years.

No matter what solutions federations generate, the budget shake-up calls into question the imperative for involvement in the delivery of health and human services. Now that anti-Semitism has subsided – and Jews have been welcomed at hospitals and community-based services across the continent – should the federation system continue to support these services? What makes them "Jewish" in the first place? And, even if the federations decide that the services are not innately "Jewish," do Jewish ethics nonetheless obligate the federations to continue delivering these services? How can the federations work most effectively with government leaders so that people in need are not left out in the cold?