Reflections On L.A. Federation’s Emergency Cash Grant Program in the Aftermath of the Great Recession

by Jenna Fields

When the Great Recession struck over five years ago, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles saw countless Jews in crisis turn to the Jewish community looking for help. Jewish families who were affected by mass layoffs, the burst of the housing bubble, and government cutbacks suddenly found themselves unable to make ends meet, many for the first time in their lives. In response to the tremendous need, our community partners and the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles joined us to create the Emergency Cash Grant (ECG) program to provide immediate cash assistance to those affected by the downturn.

Community partners, including social service organizations, synagogues and day schools applied on behalf of clients and congregants for a one-time grant. The majority of grants supported housing expenses including rent and utilities, but also included funding for transportation, phone bills, and medical expenses. In 2009, the first year of the program, we provided nearly $1 million in one-time grants ranging from $750-$1,800 to Jewish families in urgent need of financial support. From the launch of the program through the end of 2013, our Federation’s Emergency Cash Grant program distributed almost $3 million to 2,159 Jewish households which directly benefited nearly 6,000 individuals.

Impact of the ECG Program

The ECG program has been extremely effective at providing immediate help to Jews facing an unexpected financial crisis. Surveys from people who received a grant demonstrated that the ECG successfully provided short-term assistance, temporarily keeping many of them from losing their homes or having their power turned off. This impact is exemplified by a recipient’s story: “I am truly grateful for the grant I received to help me keep a roof over my children’s and my head. This has been an exceptionally difficult time as I have been out of work for six months and a vast majority of it receiving little or no child support from my son’s father. I couldn’t have gotten through without this wonderful program.”

Another outcome of the ECG program was that it provided an opportunity for new and extensive collaboration between community partners. Our Federation worked with synagogues from all movements and social service partners across the spectrum of need to support Jews who came to their rabbis, principals, and case managers for help. This partnership model led to the creation of new collaborative initiatives from our Federation including The Ezra Network deploying social services into synagogue communities, as well as our Front Line Responders Workshop Series, designed for staff at Jewish organizations in Los Angeles who provide information and referrals to community members.

Looking Ahead

Following the end of the economic crisis, our Federation experienced a significant decrease in the demand for the grants as well as a change in the needs of the individuals and families looking for help. To address the changing needs, we created the Homeless Crisis Fund in 2010, and expanded it in 2012 with the generous support of the Hellman Family. The goal of this fund was to secure immediate and sustainable housing for Jews at risk of homelessness, or who were already homeless, by providing clients with financial assistance and short-term case management from our partner Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. The fund was extremely beneficial to recipients because the program required case management along with financial assistance.

With the changing needs of the population, our decrease in requests for ECG assistance, and the increase in positive outcomes for the Hellman Homeless Crisis Fund, our Federation ultimately decided to sunset the Emergency Cash Grant program at the end of 2013. Simultaneously, we created the Jewish Crisis Fund, modeled after the Hellman Homeless Crisis Fund, to include people who are experiencing any type of crisis including, but not limited to, homelessness, job loss, domestic violence, or an illness. People who are in need of financial assistance and case management services may be eligible for the Jewish Crisis Fund or Hellman Homeless Crisis Fund; in this way, the ECG program has left a lasting impact on the work we do at our Federation.

The amount of time and care that went into distributing $3 million in individual grants over five years was no small feat and required tremendous time and dedication by Federation staff and community partners in order to implement. The Jewish community has always been known to come together in a time of crisis, and the Emergency Cash Grant program exemplified that spirit. In a time when so many people were suffering, Jews in Los Angeles knew they could turn to the Jewish community for help. As a result, it spurred us to develop new ways to support our community as part of our ongoing work in our Federation’s Caring for Jews in Need strategic initiative.

Jenna Fields, MSW, MAJCS, is Director, Caring for Jews in Need for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.