Local agency among recipients of $2.8 million in federal grants for Holocaust survivors

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At 2014 Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly: Holocaust survivor Nesse Godin, right, JFNA past president, Michael Siegal, left, and Vice President Joe Biden. Photo courtesy of JFNA
At 2014 Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly: Holocaust survivor Nesse Godin, right, JFNA past president, Michael Siegal, left, and Vice President Joe Biden.
Photo courtesy of JFNA

More than three in four Holocaust survivors in the Washington area live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, a percentage far higher than the nearly quarter of low-income survivors nationally, according to Jewish Social Service Agency of Greater Washington.

Last week, the Jewish Federations of North America announced that JSSA will be one of 23 organizations across the United States to receive a cut of $2.8 million in federal grants — the first time that the U.S. government will provide money for services for aging Holocaust survivors.


The funds from the Department of Health and Human Services are part of a five-year, $12 million initiative launched by Vice President Joe Biden in 2013 to assist survivors.

With matching private funds, Jewish agencies that support survivors will be awarded a total of $4.5 million — money that is part of a three-year, $45 million supplemental fundraising campaign chaired by Mark Wilf, chair of the JFNA Fund for Holocaust Survivors.

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JSSA is under contract with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, where about half of the money for the Holocaust survivor program comes from, according to JSSA CEO Todd Schenk. The rest comes from government grants and private donors.

According to JFNA, there are 100,000 survivors in the United States, of whom one in four is age 85 or older. Locally, 430 survivors are served by JSSA, with an average age of 85.


The funding is for agencies to provide what is called person-centered, trauma-informed (PCTI) supportive services.

“What does that look like with a Holocaust survivor? It means understanding through the lens of their traumatic experience how to approach care issues for them,” explained Schenk.

That could mean allowing a survivor to live at home instead of being admitted to a nursing home.

“When you look at that issue through the lens of the trauma of many of our survivors, the prospect of going into an institution carries different weight for them. It reminds them of trauma that they experienced of imprisonment, of being placed in institutions, of being displaced from their homes that stirs up traumatic experiences for them, that are different than the average person who just wants to stay living at home,” said Schenk.

JSSA’s average financial distribution is around $5,500 a person. The biggest service cost is bringing in personal care aids to help survivors manage daily tasks and help them with medical frailty issues, according to Schenk. He called the expense “a drop in the bucket” compared to annual nursing home costs.

“It’s good moral and ethical kind of care that we’re providing. It’s the right thing to do. And it also makes a lot of economic sense for the state and for our community,” said Schenk.

Wilf, a child of Holocaust survivors, said it that it is important to ensure that people “who have suffered so much in their own lives can live out their remaining years in the dignity they deserve.”

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