New Jersey Jewish News

Health Care Tops Agenda Of Reform Lobbying Day

Eleven congregations send representatives to meet legislator

New Jersey Jewish News — Thursday, April 3, 2008

By Marilyn Silverstein
NJJN Bureau Chief/PMB

Access to health care topped the agenda as Reform Jewish leaders from across New Jersey converged on the state capitol in Trenton March 20.

Some 30 participants from 11 Reform congregations spent the day lobbying on healthcare reform as well as immigrant rights and environmental protection in meetings with members of the General Assembly and State Senate and with representatives of advocacy groups.

They also met with Patti McGuire, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Jon Corzine.

The lobbyists were heeding a call from Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who last December called upon all Reform congregations to advocate for the union's Health Care for All initiative. Its centerpiece is asking states to make available universal, affordable health care.

The group discussed the topic with Eve Weissman, coordinator of the health-care reform campaign of the Newark-based New Jersey Citizen Action, with which the URJ region partners.

Their lobbying dovetailed with legislation on universal health care initiated that same week by Sen. Joseph Vitale of Woodbridge (D- Dist. 19). Vitale's plan would initially focus on enrolling uninsured children in an existing program providing subsidized access and would create a self-funded, state-sponsored health plan for all individuals.

"I think health care reform, as proposed by Joe Vitale, has a great deal of merit," said Phyllis Garr of Marlboro. "If there was a system of universal health care, no one would be forced to take it, but it would mean there would be a plan available for those without health coverage."

The idea also would benefit hospitals and other health care facilities, she said.

"So many of the problems experienced by hospitals because of nonpayments or late payments of bills would be reduced on a significant scale," said Garr. "Patients would receive treatment and hospitals would receive payment for their services. To me, that's a win-win situation."

Although few legislators were on hand in Trenton because of a break in deliberations on the state budget, the group met with Sen. Leonard Lance of Flemington (R-Dist. 23) and Assemblypersons Linda Greenstein of Monroe (D-Dist 14), Reed Gusciora of Trenton (D-Dist. 15), and Marcia Karrow of Flemington (R-Dist. 23).

"This was a lobbying day for congregations from the Union for Reform Judaism region in New Jersey," said Liz Cohen, social action chair for the URJ's Washington Township-based New Jersey/West Hudson Valley Council. "Our intention was for everybody to get to meet directly with legislators."

Some of the participants met one-on-one with legislators from their own districts.

While in Trenton, the Reform leaders also advocated for in-state tuition eligibility for undocumented students and for legislation introduced by Greenstein" to eliminate the potentially carcinogenic chemical bisphenol A from baby bottles and other consumer products.

"We also ended up talking quite a bit about the budget the moral aspects of the budget," Cohen said. "It really is a moral document of our state's priorities, and we really should be looking at it that way."

The lobbying day definitely had a strong impact, Cohen added.

"It was very effective, because the participants who were there really engaged with the speakers both the advocates and the legislators," she said. "They were fired up to continue advocating on the issues, and they really came together as a group. I think it will kick off ongoing advocacy throughout the year."

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