Biden announces creation of government liaison to Holocaust survivors in US

Vice president declares special post at celebratory luncheon hosted by Joint Distribution Committee.

December 11, 2013 12:39
2 minute read.
US VP Joe Biden and his wife Jill at Yad Vashem

US VP Joe Biden and his wife Jill at Yad Vashem 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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US Vice President Joe Biden announced that the Obama administration would appoint a “special envoy” that would work as a liaison with Holocaust survivors and the non-profit organizations that support them.

At the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Centennial luncheon, on Tuesday, Biden said that the new liaison in the US Department of Health and Human Services would help support initiatives that improve the lot of survivors in socioeconomic distress.

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The liaison would also encourage the private sector to do more to meet survivor’s needs.

Biden also announced a partnership between the White House and the federally funded AmeriCorps Vista, who will allocate some of the 8,000 AmeriCorps volunteers to serve Holocaust survivors.

Biden also praised the work of community organizations and institutions that have provided aid and relief to poverty-stricken survivors of the Holocaust.

“Today our country took a major step forward towards addressing the needs of many Holocaust survivors,” said Michael Siegal, who heads the Jewish Federation of North America Board of Trustees.

“We are looking forward to working with the special envoy to raise awareness and help ensure that Holocaust survivors receive the support of programs, to help them live with dignity and comfort.”

According to the Jewish Federation, two-thirds of the 120,000 Holocaust survivors in the US live alone, and many struggle to afford basic needs such as proper food and healthcare.

25 percent of Holocaust survivors in the US, and half of those in New York, also live below the federal poverty line.

These factors put Holocaust survivors at risk for being placed in institutions for elderly care that, Director of the Jewish Federation’s Washington Office William Daroff wrote in June, could be especially traumatic for them.

“For one thing, survivors have special sensitivities to aspects of institutionalized care. The loss of privacy and autonomy, combined with certain sights, sounds, smells or practices – such as showers or mass transit – can trigger psychological effects that flow from their war-time trauma.”

Biden’s announcement is the latest in “years of conversation” between the White House, members of Congress, representatives of the Jewish Federation; and Jewish Family and Children Service agencies to ensure that survivors are cared for as they age.

In June of this past year, US Congress introduced legislation requiring that survivors be provided with services to support them to live at home for as long as they are able to.

The Rush Act – Responding to Urgent needs of Survivors of the Holocaust – prioritizes Holocaust survivors as those with the “greatest social need” under the Older Americans Act, which is in the process of being renewed into law.

“As Jewish Federations continue to raise needed funds to support social service programs for Holocaust survivors, we will use the momentum from the vice president’s announcement to draw extra attention to this cause,” said Jerry Silverman, the president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America.

“Enabling Holocaust survivors to age in peace is vital for health, comfort and security and brings dignity to this vulnerable population.”

Biden, in his speech, also reaffirmed the US’ commitment to defending Israel. “The preservation of an independent Jewish state is the only certain guarantor of freedom and security for the Jewish people.”

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