Bowing to the financial pressures of a growing client base, the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA) has decreased the level of services it offers to individual Holocaust survivors.
As Holocaust survivors grow older, their needs increase. Last year, JSSA helped 280 survivors in the greater Washington area remain in their own homes by providing them with personal care assistance, transportation and kosher meals.
But those same dollars now are being spread more thinly among 430 clients — more than a 50 percent increase in the number of survivors receiving assistance — said Todd Schenk, JSSA’s CEO. The drop in the level of services to individuals took effect Nov. 11.
The number of survivors seeking financial help also has increased during the past few years, in large part due to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany broadening its definition of who is a survivor. Formerly, a survivor had to spend at least 18 months in a ghetto during World War II to qualify for assistance; the cutoff now stands at three months. Under the new guidelines, a survivor needs to have been in hiding for six months, rather than the former qualification of 18 months.
“That brings in a lot of people” who previously weren’t considered survivors, said Hillary Kessler-Godin, director of communications at the Claims Conference.
Each client JSSA served this year, on average, received $5,000.
Emma Hausner now receives 61 percent less money than she had been given a short time ago.
“She’s basically housebound, frail and fearful” of how she will be able to pay for the services she needs, Victor Hausner said of his mother, who was 19 when she came to the United States in 1939. One of her brothers was killed in Auschwitz while another brother survived that concentration camp. She fled with her family from Austria when the Nazis came, leaving on “probably the last ship from Austria” to the Netherlands.
The 95-year-old woman has been receiving assistance from JSSA for the past two years. Up until last week, she had been receiving the maximum of 25 hours per week of home care service. Now, she is eligible for 15 hours, her son said.
“We were making do in the current situation,” but even 25 hours wasn’t enough, said the younger Hausner, a resident of Chevy Chase. “She needs round-the-clock assistance. We have to sit down and figure it out.
“There is nothing wrong with helping additional people, but not at the expense” of those already receiving help, Hausner said. JSSA is “punishing existing recipients. That is not the way to handle this.”
Hausner questioned, “Is this the best the Jewish community can do for this aging, shrinking population?”
Schenk said JSSA is striving to obtain more grant money and has requested funds from Virginia, as well as a larger allotment from the Claims Conference. “We are hopeful in the next couple of months” that JSSA will have more money to spread around, he said.
JSSA received $1.5 million from the claims conference this year and $350,000 from the state of Maryland for its survivor services’ program, said Carol Parker-Perez, the agency’s chief financial officer.
The Claims Conference has increased aid to JSSA every year for the past five years. This year’s allocation was 84 percent higher than in 2014, when JSSA received $865,000. In 2011, the allocation was $455,000.
Announcing the 2015 increase, Claims Conference President Julius Berman said, “This tremendous increase in funding will directly help many survivors, including those who need more help at home than they currently receive as well as those needing care for the first time.
“Abandoned by the world in their youths,” he added, “Holocaust victims deserve all the aid and comfort that it is possible to give them in the twilight of their lives.”
The increase stems from Claims Conference negotiations with Germany, where support for in-home care has been an urgent priority for more than a decade.
Steven Rakitt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, is aware of the problem.
“We are working very closely with JSSA to help ensure that the level of service to survivors remains high,” he said, “and we are prepared to work with JSSA and donors to seek additional funds as needed.”
JSSA has been helping Holocaust survivors for 20 years. Two-thirds of its clients have annual incomes that fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty level of $22,340 for individuals and $29,140 for couples. The average client is 86 years old, and 15 percent are older than 90.