Chessed – “Deeds of Kindness”
These are tough times for most Americans, worsened by the fact that their local and state governments are facing start choices resulting in reducing services to many needy people. All citizens will have to make sacrifices and it is likely that a disproportionate share of the pain will land on those already suffering. One thing we should be able to expect of our government leaders is that they will make common sense choices to limit the hurt on our vulnerable frail elderly, disabled, young children and families in crisis.
It should go without saying that first, before cutting essential services, Federal, state and local government must eliminate waste, fraud and mismanagement; all of which lead to revenue leakage and outrageous spending. How many news stories about billions in corporate welfare, farm subsidies, and wasted energy tax credits have we heard in recent months? It wasn’t more than a year ago that we learned billionaires like Edgar Bronfman and others took advantage of farm credits, without actually owning a real farm, to save hundreds of millions in taxes. And how many billions in Pentagon (and other) waste will we continue to learn about in the coming years? Waste on unnecessary weapons, purchase on underutilized computer software and hardware, and out of control expenses in all levels of government.
Government has an important partnership with non-profit organizations who deliver desperately needed services- ranging from job training, home health care for the elderly, food pantries and kitchens, affordable housing, and basic social services like benefits and entitlements. There will be sweeping cuts to all of these vital programs. Government will need to challenge the best service providers to do more with less, but it will also need to have an interactive conversation that will permit dynamic changes to the way the services are provided. For too long government agencies have insisted on doing things the way they have been done for the past two to five decades, including bulky unfunded mandates that are inefficient. By listening to the providers and making changes, there is a chance that we can improve the delivery of services.
The worst thing that could happen would be across the board massive cuts without considering the quality of services or testing out new mechanisms to provide those services. We are already hearing rumors of massive cuts in education and health care that will be mandated and without innovation opportunities. Medium performers are expecting to remain in the programs with the best providers, instead of trying to capture efficiencies with fewer and better providers. Even some job training programs are slated for elimination because it’s imagined that some job seekers will have to fend for themselves.
At Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, we are engaging in a multi-front advocacy effort with the help of dedicated volunteers, a Board and staff. We believe that services can be delivered better if we have greater freedoms.
For example, we provide nearly 3,000 frail elderly clients with home care services every day. We have been trying for years to get government to permit us to test a program that would allow local laundry services and shopping services to perform that function for 100 or more of our clients. This change would leave the home care workers available to focus on the frail elderly client instead of spending time at the Laundromat or the supermarket. Typically, government regulators try to evade making those decisions. We believe if implemented system-wide, it could lead to a savings of up to 30 percent of Medicaid home care expenses after a five year ramp-up. In New York State, we think savings could reach $500 million in less than two years because it would lead to home care workers having the hours available to work with new clients, rather than having to hire more workers.
For the past two decades, Met Council has trained more than 25,000 extraordinarily nurturing home care workers. We have trained them in every important aspect of caring for the elderly clients, as well as helping them understand the needs of kosher observant Jewish clients. As I write this, we have received a phone call but no written notice that government plans to close this program that trained nearly 1,000 workers last year. If this occurs, the level of care will ultimately be less than it is today and certainly those Jewishly-observant elderly will not get the sensitive care that they need.
Each and every one of us has a deep and abiding responsibility for one another. Every day, we try to do acts of Chsessed (lovingkindness) for those who need us. America is the gold standard for government lovingkindness. We are going to be experiencing a time where that concept is challenged. It will be up to those who care for the less fortunate to urge government leaders to have the wisdom to ensure that waste does not occur, but also that cuts are not wielded as weapons of mass destruction.