trump stands in a row with a bunch of grinning legislators
President Donald Trump, center, with House Speaker Paul Ryan, third from right, and other Republican House leaders in the White House Rose Garden to celebrate the passage of the American Health Care Act through the House of Representatives, May 4, 2017. (JTA/Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Local Jewish agencies enter fight against new health care bill

Bay Area Jewish organizations are mobilizing to fight the health care bill passed last week by the House of Representatives, following a national call to arms from the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies.

The American Health Care Act is aimed at repealing and replacing the Obama administration’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Among other provisions, the bill contains more than $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid funding over 10 years, which could prove devastating to thousands of mostly poor and elderly people in the Bay Area, according to officials at local Jewish social service agencies.

The drastic nature of the proposed cuts has prompted these officials to pay close attention to the bill’s movement through Congress, and to begin strategizing.

Avi Rose
Avi Rose

“The bill is a disaster, and I think most people see that,” said Avi Rose, executive director of Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay. “We will be speaking out about this to our community, in terms of informing people about the impact we think this will have on the people we serve.”

While the House passed the bill 217 to 213, it still needs to go through the Senate, a body whose members have expressed reluctance to pass or even take up the bill in its present form.

As a result, some organizations are concerned but have not yet plotted a course of action. “I think at the moment we’re doing a little waiting and seeing,” said Mindy Berkowitz, executive director of Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley.

About 2,000 to 3,000 people JFS serves will likely be impacted because of the bill, according to Berkowitz. “What happens often is when the benefits are cut, there is nowhere else to take from. They are already dealing with exorbitant housing costs,” she said.

The bill is a disaster, and I think most people see that.

The vast majority of JFCS-East Bay’s 8,000 clients may be negatively impacted by the proposed law, and the organization is still in the early stages of formulating a pushback strategy. “We haven’t figured out what kind of campaign we would mount,” said Rose.

Neither organization is expecting the Senate to pass the House bill in its current form.

Anita Friedman, executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services, said by email that “the proposed House version of federal changes would dramatically reduce essential services to children, families and elderly of our community. We are working in coalition with others who share our concerns in order to advocate with our elected officials for improved public policy that will improve our country’s health care system. We do not believe the current House version of legislation will do this. We are monitoring this matter at the U.S. Senate level now, and believe our voice on behalf of those we serve is important as this public policy debate continues.”

Local social service agencies have little power to lobby at the national level since the region is already a Democratic Party stronghold. California’s 20 Republican House members voted for the bill, but are from more conservative parts of the state such as the Central Valley and Southern California.

“In California we’re fortunate that our legislators are with us,” said Berkowitz. “We’re not going to go outside of our district to lobby. If there’s some way to sign onto something, we’ll do that.”

But that does not mean that Jewish organizations are going to do nothing. Said Rose, “There are going to be a lot of battles before this is over.”

max cherney
Max A. Cherney

Max A. Cherney is a former J. staff writer.