A Jewish Association on Aging project to establish an electronic medical record system for all its facilities has been dealt a serious — though, according to JAA, temporary — setback.
JAA, through U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, asked Congress last year for $500,000 to implement a medical record keeping system to cover its one nursing home, two assisted living facilities and an outpatient rehabilitation facility.
The JAA was one of several area nonprofits for which Doyle requested earmark funding. In all, the Pittsburgh Democrat asked Congress for more than $1.1 million for six area projects.
But he got zero.
The funding well for earmarks dried up last November when Senate Republicans approved a two-year moratorium on earmarks. That leaves the Senate shy of the 60 votes needed to approve bills with earmarks.
What’s more, the online news magazine Politico has reported that House Speaker John Boehner won’t allow spending bills with earmarks to come to the floor for votes.
Earmarks are taxpayer money that is spent on special projects in lawmakers’ districts. The practice of congressmen requesting funds for local projects is a controversial one with some lawmakers calling for a ban while others defend their use so long as their requests are transparent and defensible.
Doyle, who defends earmarks, was clearly frustrated that they were taken out of the December omnibus sending bill, which passed the House and sent to the Senate.
“They were killed by the Senate Republicans,” he said in an interview with the Chronicle. “We thought we were going to get an omnibus [spending] bill, but [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell bowed to the Tea Party.”
“All these requests that we initially found in the House Appropriations Bill have all been for naught now,” Doyle added.
Doyle said his office is in the process of notifying agencies that had applied for funding what happened, although “some already know because they’ve been following this.”
JAA President and Chief Executive Officer David Gritzer described the project as vital to JAA operations, and he said it will move forward despite this setback.
“It’s imperative that we transfer to an electronic medical records system just for the efficiency of our patient care,” Gritzer said. “We’re looking for other sources of funding; we’re going to do this, it’s imperative that we do this.”
Without earmarks, Doyle said local NPOs must take their funding requests to the executive branch, which, unlike congressional representatives, may not appreciate the need for these projects.
“I think the earmark has gotten a bad reputation,” he said. “The funny thing about it is constitutionally, it is clear that all spending bills have to originate in the House of Representatives. Less than 10 percent of federal spending is on earmarks.”
Gritzer said JAA has yet to identify an alternative funding source for the medical records project.
“We just received the news on the earmarks, so we’re looking into that right now,” he said.
JAA wasn’t the only in-state Jewish entity hurt by the no earmark pledge.
“The no-earmark issues has hindered many NORC aging in place programs —even in Pennsylvania,” said Hank Butler, director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition. “We are still working on enhancing and promoting the need for additional support for aging in place programs.”
NORC, which stands for naturally occurring retirement communities, are residential area in which a large percentage of individuals aged 65 and older reside. Those residents receive federally funded support for health care and independence activities. Jewish communities in Pennsylvania and around the country support NORCs.
While NORC administrators understand they cannot rely on earmarks, the absence of the funding does hurt.
“I am unsure if they will be hindered from ongoing operations,” Butler said, “but their efforts to expand and improve will be an obstacle for now.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)