New Jersey Jewish News

Jewish Leaders Join Rally Against Medicaid Cuts

New Jersey Jewish News — Thursday, June 14, 2007

By Marilyn Silverstein
NJJN Staff Writer

Jewish voices rang out loud and clear at the steps of the State House in Trenton on June 7, as a broad coalition of health-care workers, labor unions, nursing home administrators, and community leaders rallied to fight the $23 million in cuts to Medicaid reimbursements in Gov. Jon Corzine's proposed $33 billion state budget.

The cuts would mean the loss of another $23 million in matching federal funds and would result in deep cutbacks in staffing at the state's nursing homes, according to observers. Preserving Medicaid funding has been a priority for Jewish federations around the state, whose beneficiary agencies often depend on state and federal funding to serve seniors.

Corzine was reportedly working to reach an agreement on the budget with state legislators by June 10. Under the state constitution, the legislature must adopt a budget by June 30.

At press time, no one in Corzine's administration was available to speak directly about defending the budget's proposed Medicaid cuts, according to Gloria Montealegre, a spokesperson for the governor. However, Mark Perkiss, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of the Treasury, issued a general statement: "We are in ongoing talks with the legislature for a global balanced budget agreement."

But Sen. Loretta Weinberg of Teaneck (D-Dist. 37) was quick to condemn the cuts at the June 7 rally as several hundred cheering demonstrators hoisted signs declaring, "Protect Seniors: Stop Nursing Home Cuts."

"You are the people who lifted my 98-year-old aunt and made sure she was dressed every day," Weinberg said. "You are the people who helped give her dignity in the last two years of her life, and we in the state of New Jersey owe you that dignity back - the dignity of fair wages, the dignity of proper benefits.

"We will go back into the State House and plead your case to our budget committees and the governor's office, and we will see that there are no cuts for nursing homes," Weinberg pledged. "We are going to stand with you."

Weinberg and Sen. Robert Singer of Jackson (R-Dist. 30) were two of just a handful of state legislators who spoke out during the 75-minute rally.

Among the other speakers were Lori Price Abrams, director of the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest New Jersey; Ev Liebman, program director for the Newark-based New Jersey Citizen Action, an independent watchdog organization; Milly Silva, president of SEIU 1199, the Service Employees International Union; Larry Lane, vice president for government relations for Genesis Health Care; and Sy Larson of East Brunswick, a volunteer with AARP's Central New Jersey region.

Lawrence Gelfand, executive vice president of the Daughters of Israel Geriatric Center in West Orange, also lent his support to the demonstration against the proposed cuts. However, representatives from the center had to abandon their efforts to participate in the rally when they were sidelined by a flat tire on the Garden State Parkway on the way to Trenton.

As Liebman addressed the rally, she denounced the proposed cuts as "unconscionable" and "mean-spirited."

"It is a sad day for New Jersey when rather than talking about increasing funding for our already under-funded nursing homes, the legislature is considering $46 million in cuts," she said. "That will irrevocably impact our most vulnerable citizens."

Seven out of every 10 of New Jersey's 45,000 nursing home residents depend on the state's Medicaid program to purchase their care, Lane told the demonstrators. The state pays about $7 per hour for that care, but it actually costs $8 per hour, he said.

"We lose $1 per hour on Medicaid patients. Is that dignity?" Lane asked. "We must stop these cuts."

Larson said it was disgraceful that people have to stand up and fight for nursing home care in the richest country in the nation. "They call us the greatest generation," he said. "The way they are treating residents of nursing homes, we should be called the forgotten generation."

Price Abrams, during an interview after her brief remarks, pointed to the strong relationship between the state's Jewish federations and labor unions.

"Two years ago, we stood together with this coalition of labor groups because we share a common interest here - stopping the Medicaid cuts," she said. "So we stand here again today."

Abrams said that Jewish leaders also stand side-by-side with the unions at the annual Labor Seder, held at the Rutgers Labor Education Center in New Brunswick and sponsored by the Jewish Labor Committee and the MetroWest CRC.

"It's a critically important issue to the Jewish community," she said. "All the better to combine our clout with other constituencies to deliver this important message."

Neal Gorfinkle of Bloomfield, a representative of SEIU 1199 who has helped plan the labor seders, said he was seeking to educate nursing home administrators about the importance of working with labor unions to fight the proposed cuts.

"If these cuts go through, care will get worse," Gorfinkle said. "Staffers are going to suffer and residents are going to suffer."

Jeff Satten of Matawan, director of the 183-bed Madison Center there, concurred.

"We take care of 183 residents," said Satten, a member of Ahavath Sholom in Howell. "We have staff who are just making it now with their salaries. If we have any further cuts, quality of care would be compromised."

About 70 percent of his residents are Medicaid recipients, Satten said, and about 80 percent of the Medicaid reimbursements his home receives goes directly to pay for staff.

"If we have the cuts go through, I would have to cut staff," he said, "and if I cut staff, I'm compromising care. I can't cut food. I can't cut medicine. I would have to cut manpower."

Satten said he had traveled to Trenton "to send a message, loud and clear, to the legislature that we can't afford any further cuts."

"I think we have a rather rich state," he said. "We need to find the money elsewhere."

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