Largest Jewish coronavirus relief fund to begin lending soon

NEW YORK (JTA– Money will start flowing out of a relief fund set up by a coalition of eight Jewish philanthropies over the next month, organizers say.

Some things have become clear about the fund since its announcement last month, including its size – $ 91 million, up from $ 80 million at launch – and when the fund will start accepting applications, which are by invitation only: this should happen in a few days. . The fund will provide both emergency interest-free loans to Jewish organizations and grants that do not need to be repaid.

Other questions remain unanswered. Main among them: how much money will go to loans as opposed to grants, whether beneficiaries will be publicly identified, and how much the fund will be able to fill the yawning financial void left by the coronavirus crisis.

The fund was spear three weeks ago by a group of seven major Jewish philanthropic foundations and the Jewish Federations of North America. Called the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund, it is, in gross dollars, the largest collective Jewish response to the current economic crisis. It focuses on the areas of education, engagement and leadership and primarily seeks to help long-established Jewish institutions.

“When we launched on April 20, it was sort of an early launch,” said Shira Hutt, chief of staff for the Jewish Federations of North America. “It wasn’t like on April 21 organizations were going to hand us requests… Everyone is impatient, I am impatient, lenders are eager to start putting together these lending resources to really help organizations that have. need this bridge. “

Since the fund’s announcement, JFNA massive layoffs announced and one growing number of Jewish camps have canceled their upcoming summer seasons. Even with the fund’s efforts, it’s likely that some of the Jewish organizations it seeks to help will have to shut down, said Felicia Herman, executive director of the Natan Fund, which manages the fund’s grant program.

“You could say that a community needs places to go for a ritual and to come together,” Herman said in an interview in April. “If you want to maintain this function in a community, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need x number of synagogues in a community. Maybe structurally you need less or structurally you are forced to have fewer institutions.

Hutt said the fund “tries to cast the net as wide as possible,” but said priority will go to Jewish organizations like synagogues, day schools, camps, Jewish community centers and the Hillels campus. Beyond that, the fund seeks applications from other national organizations.

Groups outside of those categories won’t count towards loans, Hutt said, at least at this point. This means that the fund will not lend to social service agencies, such as those providing health care or social services, which tend to have more local support and access to government funds. It will also not consider local organizations that are not part of a national network.

The need in these institutions seems to be deep. A first estimate of the collective financial needs of long-standing Jewish institutions the fund focuses on put the figure at $ 650 million, a number that some say could rise further. A Jewish nonprofit leader called for a billion dollar fund.

The emphasis on legacy institutions is understandable, said Lila Corwin Berman, professor of American Jewish history at Temple University who focuses on philanthropy, because of the sheer numbers of people these institutions employ.

But she said the loans might not be able to offset the effects of the current economic crisis, and that the invitation-only structure favors settlement groups and concentrates power in the foundations funding the initiative.

“It means some sort of effort to stabilize these institutions as they are and hopefully try to help the people they employ,” she said. “But … nothing about these loans suggests that these institutions will be able to return to where they were.”

The loan fund is only part of the emerging solution for struggling Jewish organizations. Some Jewish federations, which act as communal funding bodies, have also launched large funds to help local institutions. The New York UJA Federation is committed over $ 45 million in funding, while the Jewish United Fund in Chicago has a $ 26 million fund.

In addition to philanthropic dollars, as of April 24, 575 Jewish organizations had has received a total of $ 312 million in federal aid, according to a survey by JFNA.

“While we wish we could encompass many different organizations, at the end of the day we won’t be able to fund everyone,” Herman said. “It’s not supposed to be the solution. It’s not possible. If we had 10 times the money, this couldn’t be the solution.

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