By Judie Jacobson
HARTFORD – This year, the yahrzeit of State Senator Gayle Slossberg’s mother fell on the evening of Monday, May 5 – and, just Slossberg’s luck, the General Assembly session was running late that night. Undeterred, Slossberg, whose district covers Milford, Orange, West Haven and Woodbridge, managed to round up a minyan made up of other Jewish legislators and lobbyists, and said Kaddish.
It was, as far as anyone could remember, a first. But it wasn’t Slossberg’s only victory that week. Nor, for that matter, was it the only victory for several other legislators and Connecticut’s Jewish agencies.
Two days later, when the Connecticut General Assembly wrapped up its legislative session at midnight on Thursday morning, May 8, the Jewish community was celebrating a few significant victories.
According to Robert Fishman, executive director of the Jewish Federations Association of Connecticut (JFACT), whose office played a key role in coordinating the effort, three pieces of legislation in particular will have a significant impact on Jewish Federations and their agencies – especially day schools – as well as the non-profit sector in general.
Fishman outlined them for the Ledger:
1. Senate Bill 29, which covers bonding for infrastructure, allows for $2.2 million of grant funds to be used for non-public school security. According to Fishman, the Jewish and Catholic communities – including the parents organization representing the state’s 113 Catholic schools — worked together to convince the governor and legislators that 10 percent of the proposed $22 million for school security should be allocated to non-public schools. Joining in advocating for the funding were the Jewish Federations of Greater Hartford, New Haven, Eastern CT, and Stamford, along with representatives from that state’s largest day school, the Bi-Cultural Day School in Stamford, as well as parents from Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford.
2. Senate Bill 29 also allows for a continuation and increase in funding for non-profit infrastructure to the tune of $50 million. This past year, notes Fishman, Hebrew Health Care (HHC) received a grant for vehicle transportation in the amount of $211,000 – but were turned down for a $165,000 grant for technology upgrades. The funding increase means HHC can reapply.
3. For the first time in many years, the General Assembly passed an increase in the Neighborhood Assistance Act (NAA), which rose from a cap of $5 million to a new cap of $10 million. Under the terms of the Act, companies in the black can reduce their tax burden by donating money to non-profits for specific purposes. Although smaller companies – that is, S Corps and LLCs – are currently excluded from the bill, Fishman hopes they will reconsider in the next session.
“At 11:45 p.m. Rep. Chris Perone of Norwalk, who chairs the Commerce Committee, came up from the gallery specifically to say he was able to get the raise, though he could not get consensus on inclusion of the smaller companies,” says Fishman. “However, he will work diligently with us on that issue for the next session.”
The Neighborhood Assistance Act has proved an effective fundraising tool for those Jewish agencies that have used it to their advantage. For example, notes Fishman, among the many Jewish organizations who took advantage of this legislation last year are: Congregation Beth Israel (Orchard Street Shul), a registered historic site in downtown New Haven, which received more than $21,000 for a weatherization project, the Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford, which received a total of more than $37,000 for energy conservation projects, and the Yeshivah of New Haven, which received $100,000 for several projects, including the renovation of housing for use by neighborhood residents as well as Yeshivah faculty.
In addition to these three legislative victories, the new budget includes some new funding for social service agencies that are likely to affect the Jewish community. These include:
• A $4 million increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates for mental health services for adults and children
• $600,000 for the re-opening of the Elderly Renters Rebate program
• $200,000 for after-school programs
• $4 million for the developmentally disabled for 100 individuals now seen as priority one placements on the wait list for residential services for those individuals with parents age 70 plus.
Fishman noted that several legislators took center stage in helping to pass these key pieces of legislation, including: Sen. Slossberg, Sen. Andrea Stillman (Bozrah, East Lyme, Montville, New London, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Salem & Waterford), Rep. David Baram (Bloomfield, Windsor), Rep. Brian Becker (West Hartford, Avon, Farmington) and Rep. Matthew Lesser (Middletown).
Likewise, said JFACT President Robert Tendler, used its experience and expertise to coordinate the effort that led to these legislative successes.
“JFACT as the representative for the Jewish Federations in CT and their social service agencies and educational institutions is a member of CTNonprofits,” said Tendler. “This past session collaborative advocacy delivered on increased grant opportunities and JFACT is proud to have made a difference in this successful lobbying effort which will directly benefit our Jewish Federations, their agencies and Jewish schools.”
Fishman also reported that he and Dr. Avinoam Patt, the Philip D. Feltman Professor of Modern Jewish History at the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford, recently met with Stephen Armstrong, the newly appointed head of the committee charged with revising the Social Studies Framework for the Connecticut Department of Education.
Armstrong, who also serves as Social Studies Department supervisor for West Hartford Public Schools and president of the National Council for the Social Studies, is committed to including more Holocaust and genocide education into the state’s public school curriculum, reports Fishman. Armstrong plans to work closely with Patt, who will help in developing the curriculum and bring in scholars. Fishman, too, will help bring Holocaust survivors into the classroom for special programs, as well as provide relevant teaching materials.
“The next step will be to see what we can do about getting a state mandate [for Holocaust and genocide education in the schools]” says Fishman. “So, we’re moving in the right direction.”
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