Twenty-nine Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago agency professionals, volunteer leaders, and senior professional staff participated in the annual Government Affairs Agency Advocacy Mission to Washington D.C. on March 21-22 during a particularly eventful week for Congress.
During the two-day fly-in, mission participants voiced support for pressing domestic policy issues such as Medicaid and the Refugee Resettlement Program. They also advocated for federal funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP), the Holocaust Survivors Assistance Program, and the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, all of which directly impact the Jewish Federation, its affiliated agencies, and the people they serve.
Participants received briefings from policy experts and met with members of the Illinois Congressional delegation to stress the importance of protecting these safety net programs, which infuse millions of federal dollars into the Federation system each year.
Co-chaired by Government Affairs Committee Chair David Golder and Vice Chair Janna Berk, the mission also included participants from the JUF Board of Directors, CJE SeniorLife, Jewish Child and Family Services, HIAS Chicago, Sinai Health System, Keshet, and the Dina & Eli Field EZRA Multi-Service Center.
Golder said, "At a time when serious policy changes are being considered in Washington, our group of agency professionals and volunteer leaders presented a compelling narrative about the strength of our network of services and how federal dollars are vital to our ability to provide services to vulnerable children, families, and seniors.
"Our regular presence in Washington enables us to strengthen relationships with elected and appointed officials, and continue to demonstrate our ability to leverage public and private philanthropic dollars to serve our community."
During meetings with members of the Illinois House Delegation and their staff, participants stressed how people served by the Federation agencies and throughout Illinois would be impacted by proposed policy changes.
Roberta Rakove, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at Sinai Health System, said, "When we signed up for the mission this year, we had no idea that this would be the ground zero week for health care in Washington. During this trip we had access to the whole Illinois delegation and were able to make the case for why Medicaid must be protected at a critical moment."
The $208 million in Medicaid funding coming into Federation's system each year allows Federation's affiliated health care, home and community-based services and long-term care providers to care for the most vulnerable populations in Chicago-area communities.
Another focus of the trip was on Federation's work in the area of refugee resettlement, and the importance of federal funding for the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program. Participants expressed support for policies that promote national security and also embody the American and Jewish values of welcoming those fleeing violence and persecution.
"The D.C. mission once again reaffirmed for me the incredible unity and teamwork that exists across our community's lay leadership and professionals," said Howard Sitron, President and CEO of JCFS, which includes the refugee resettlement provider HIAS Chicago. "The ultimate impact on our lawmakers is never known as we go about this work. What is crystal clear is the collective energy and commitment of our community to work together on behalf of those we come together to serve. It is always an honor to join with this dedicated group of leaders."
Mission participants also met with Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Sen. Dick Durbin's staff, as well as House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas to learn about their priorities for 2017, including McCaul's priorities for the Homeland Security Committee and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program.
Other speakers included Dan Berger, acting assistant secretary for the Department of Health and Human Service's Administration for Community Living, who discussed the administration's priorities for seniors and people with disabilities.
CJE SeniorLife President and CEO Mark Weiner said the mission was a great opportunity to convey the impact his organization is seeing on the services it provides every day.
"Government funding for Medicaid and for Holocaust Community Services has a significant impact on CJE's ability to serve people in our community," Weiner said, "And this Mission gives us a chance to make our perspective known."
Some progress has already been made on one item on the mission participants' agenda. Shortly after the fly-in, Illinois Reps. Brad Schneider, Mike Quigley, Peter Roskam, Michael Bost and Jan Schakowsky joined Reps. Dan Lipinski, Robin Kelly, Bill Foster and Danny Davis in signing a letter to the House Appropriations Committee calling for an increase in funding for the NSGP.
McCaul also sent a letter to House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman Rep. John Carter (Texas) requesting an increase for the NSGP in fiscal years 2017 and 2018.
"This trip was an outstanding opportunity to make Federation's voice heard on a wide variety of policy issues that impact our community," Berk said. "Our group consisted of a great mix of professionals and volunteers, and represented the full scope of Federation's system."