Pittsburgh’s Jewish agencies, many of whom rely on government spending in some form, are responding to the political and budgetary volatility in Washington, in many cases, with a wait-and-see approach.
According to officials with the community’s social service arms, while they may have to alter funding strategies in response to new directions coming from the White House, at the moment, they’re proceeding with caution.
“Unfortunately, it is too premature for me to be able to answer,” said Deborah Winn-Horvitz, president and CEO of the Jewish Association on Aging. “As of right now, our funding strategies have not changed and include preparing for Medicaid managed care in the state of Pennsylvania, enhancing our memory-care offerings, right-sizing our nursing home beds, continued expansion of our home and community-based services and increased donor-directed support through grants and donations.
“I do not see any of these strategies being impacted in the immediate future,” she added.
Still, some are already anticipating a different environment evolving.
Jewish Family & Children’s Service, for instance, expects significant subsequent changes.
It is not so much because of President Donald Trump, “but going along with policies of the Republicans who control Congress — we have heard of various plans coming out of the House of Representatives that will cut food stamps and dismantle Social Security and Medicare,” said Iris Valanti, a public relations associate at JF&CS. “Since our clients are by and large low-income, I’m sure they will be affected.”
Matthew Bolton, director of the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry, shared similar concerns.
“Indirectly, most of our clients participate in SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], also known as food stamps,” he said. The food pantry itself participates in TEFAP, the Emergency Food Assistance Program, also funded by federal outlays.
“So between the support they receive between our food pantry and SNAP, if there’s any change to these benefits, it could have a detrimental change to our clients,” explained Bolton.
Still, neither JF&CS nor the Community Food Pantry has radically revised their funding plans.
“We’re waiting to see what happens,” said Bolton.
Unlike other local agencies, Riverview Towers has already experienced negative financial repercussions due to changes in Washington, although not because of last fall’s election.
“It’s not because of the new administration,” said Hanna Steiner, executive director of Riverview Towers. “It started last year.”
Steiner credited downsizing at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is responsible for some of her agency’s grants and subsidies, with the changing fiscal reality. “They changed the way they do business,” she said. Consequently, Riverview Towers is currently in a “holding pattern.”
Although Steiner is uncertain whether Riverview Towers will receive federal funding for its services grants, she too admitted that drastic maneuvers are not underway.
“Right now I’m really trying not to do any shaking of any systems or the way we conduct business,” she said. Riverview Towers continues to provide the additional services that its residents receive, such as “service coordination, making sure that our residents are connected with services in the community, housekeeping, laundry, counseling and wellness. If we cannot provide this, then we are like any other rental property, and this is not Riverview Towers.”
At the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, spokesman Adam Hertzman said that the umbrella organization “has not changed our approach to fundraising.”
“We as a community work with every administration through our local, state and federal representatives to try and understand and advocate for laws and funding that will help the Jewish community,” he said.
“That was true of the George W. Bush administration, that was true of the Obama administration and will be true of the Trump administration. And [it] will be true of whatever the next administration is.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.