J-Help needs your help | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

J-Help needs your help

In 2009, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation launched J-Help. Originally called the Jewish Community Emergency Economic Assistance Fund, this “assistance fund” was created in response to the unprecedented emergency economic needs fueled by the 2008-2009 economic downturn. The fund was established for members of the Jewish community, or current and ongoing clients of Jewish Family Services. More than 86 percent of all J-Help recipients are Jewish.

The economy may have improved over the past several years, but many in the Jewish community are still desperately in need of help to pay for life essentials such as utilities, food, shelter, medical services, insurance, transportation, clothing and miscellaneous basic living expenses. J-Help, facilitated by Jewish Family Services, determines eligibility via an application process.

Beneficiaries of J-Help include low income individuals as well as those who had previously enjoyed a middle class lifestyle. Assistance is provided in the form of gift cards for the purchase of food, gas and other household necessities, or payment is made directly to landlords, utility companies, insurance companies and other approved vendors. There are no cash outlays other than those in the form of gift cards to local merchants.

Your donation to J-Help provides assistance to people like Tracey and Steve who are the parents of three school age children. Recently, Steve, the primary breadwinner, suffered a serious stroke that impacted his short-term memory. Tracey has tried to adjust her work hours as she cannot leave Steve alone. A family member stepped in to provide some coverage. Without Steve’s income, they fell behind on their payments and several bills were turned over to a credit bureau. With J-Help grants to cover utility bills, car payments and some medical bills, they were able to become current.

J-Help also provided a lifeline for Tina, a single mother who receives Social Security Disability and FoodShare as her only sources of income. The father of her teenage son is over $20,000 in arrears on child support and the court system has been unable to locate him. Her income barely covers their expenses and she occasionally needs assistance with food and household items. J-help has enabled her to keep up with all of her bills without accumulating debt or risk eviction or utility disconnections.

A middle-aged couple faced some financial issues when Jane lost her caregiver job as the client passed away. Sam, who has been unable to work due to numerous health issues, is on disability and receives a very small amount from FoodShare. He has occasional income from a product he creates and sells on eBay. Due to the loss of Jane’s income, they were unable to meet some of their housing expense. A grant from J-Help prevented the risk of losing their home.

These are just a few of the people in the Jewish community who have benefitted from J-Help fund. But this assistance isn’t a one-time panacea. The vast majority of those helped by J-Help in the past year have also received financial assistance in prior years. Unfortunately, the situation is unlikely to improve for more than 30 percent of the individuals. Some may be elderly or disabled and living on a fixed income. Others may be unable to find employment due to a lack of marketable skills, ongoing health issues, or undeveloped or mismatched workplace skills. To extend the life of J-Help, which has enough funds to last for another 16 months based on current demand, limits have been set as to the amount of financial assistance recipients can receive in any given calendar year. Currently, nine recipients have reached their annual limit for 2016 and seven are quickly approaching the maximum.

J-Help needs your help to continue to provide this safety net that so many in our community rely on.

Beth Shapiro is Clinic Intake Coordinator at Jewish Family Services. The Jewish Community Foundation of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation holds the J-Help fund and Jewish Family Services administers it. Names in this piece have been altered for confidentiality.


How to help

Beneficiaries of J-Help include low income individuals as well as those who had previously enjoyed a middle class lifestyle. Donations can be made to the Jewish Community Foundation of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation for the J-Help fund. For more information or to donate, contact Executive Director Caren B. Goldberg of the Jewish Community Foundation at 414-390-5737 or CarenG@MilwaukeeJewish.org.