Jewish Federations Applaud Advancement of Older Americans Act in Senate

Provision will ensure guidance on serving and conducting outreach to Holocaust survivors

The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) today applauded a key Senate committee’s support for the Older Americans Act, including a provision requiring guidance for care and outreach to aging Holocaust survivors — an issue critical to Federations and the Jewish community.

Jewish Federations applauded the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) for its approval of the Older Americans Act (OAA), which includes the Holocaust survivor legislation. Services under the OAA help enable Holocaust survivors and other older adults to age in place in their homes and communities.

“With each passing day it becomes even more urgent to do all we can for the survivors of the Holocaust,” said Michael Siegal, Chair of the JFNA Board of Trustees. “The guidance that the Older Americans Act requires will make state and local governments acutely aware of the need to provide care for aging Holocaust survivors.”

Holocaust survivors face challenges similar to those of all older people — but effects from the Holocaust can make placing them in senior care facilities especially complicated. The loss of privacy, autonomy and control, and the introduction of new sights, sounds, smells or practices, such as unfamiliar showers, can trigger residual impacts from the Holocaust. The OAA’s reauthorization would require the Department of Health and Human Services and the Administration on Aging to work with local communities to develop guidance to help serve Holocaust survivors.

As recent findings indicate in A Portrait of Jewish Americans, the Pew Research Center’s report on its 2013 survey of U.S. Jews, the Jewish community has a larger percentage of older adults than the general population. According to the report, 24 percent of Jewish adults are over the age of 65, while only 18 percent of U.S. adults overall are over the age of 65. Jewish institutions have developed programs to respond to the aging population, and they continue to lead in planning for the needs of the baby boomer generation as it ages.

Jewish Federations have promoted the Older Americans Act for decades, as its programs provide essential services for aging in place. Many OAA programs take place at Jewish community centers, Jewish family and children’s service agencies, and independent senior centers. The Older Americans Act funds home-delivered and group meals, transportation, mental health counseling referral, and caregiver assistance for older adults who are most at risk of isolation. The OAA is also the place in law that funded nearly $30 million for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities supportive services demonstrations and $15 million for the Community Innovations for Aging in Place program that provided grants to public and nonprofit providers. Both initiatives were proposals developed by JFNA.

“Caring for Holocaust survivors is a top priority for Jewish Federations and their partner agencies across the continent,” said William Daroff, Senior Vice President for Public Policy & Director of the Washington Office at The Jewish Federations of North America. “Enabling Holocaust survivors to age in place with dignity and respect is crucial, and we applaud the Senate HELP Committee for advancing this legislation and commend Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) for their bipartisan leadership in spearheading the Holocaust survivor provision. We look forward to working with members of the Senate to reauthorize the OAA now that it has passed out of committee.”

Of the approximately 120,000 Holocaust survivors living in the United States today, three-quarters are over the age of 75, and about two-thirds live alone. Many of these survivors struggle to afford basic needs, such as adequate food and healthcare; about half of the survivors who arrived in the country after 1965 from the former Soviet Union fall beneath the poverty line. Compounding the problem is the fact that atrocities during the Holocaust have caused so many to survive alone, leading to a smaller family base to provide support.

The Jewish Federations of North America, which works closely with the Jewish Family Service agencies and the Holocaust survivors they serve, remains dedicated to working with Congress, the Obama Administration and nonprofit organizations to ensure that Holocaust survivors get the support and care they need to live in their communities with comfort and security.

The Jewish Federations, collectively among the top 10 charities on the continent, protects and enhances the well-being of Jews worldwide through the values of tikkun olam (repairing the world), tzedakah (charity and social justice) and Torah (Jewish learning).