It may surprise you that of the three senators – Mark Kirk (R-IL), Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski (both D-MD) – sponsoring the Responding to Urgent needs of Survivors of the Holocaust (RUSH, because RUNSH is stupid) bill, only Cardin is Jewish. It’s said that putting two Jews together to debate something will get you three different opinions, which may have benefited this one.
The bill would:
- add Holocaust survivors to the list of groups to receive preference for services of the Older Americans Act (OAA);
- amend the nutrition section of said act to provide meals that meet religious/cultural dietary requirements;
- appoint someone in the Administration for Community Living to implement survivor services;
- and offer grants to non-profits that improve transportation for survivors.
I took the liberty of asking my grandmother what she thought about this bill. She made three points: 1. What about housing? (Not on the list of programs covered by the OAA, but that’s beyond the scope of this bill.) 2. It should do something for seniors who have to live in apartment blocks full of smokers. (It’s her pet issue.) 3. The population of survivors is dwindling by the day and this bill won’t be needed very long. (Completely true.)
Now here’s what I think: It is absolutely true that Holocaust survivors, compared to many other seniors, have it tough. Many of them, including my grandmother, came from the Soviet Union, where they were essentially blocked from accumulating enough wealth to last into their older years. Plenty still don’t know English well enough to have held well-paying jobs. Any fool could tell you that.
However. Once you start giving out preferential status under legislation like the OAA on the basis of which traumatic historical event the group in question has experienced, you open the floodgates to demands for similar status on the basis of other traumatic historical events. Why not survivors of Katrina, or the Cultural Revolution, or the Khmer Rouge? The Holocaust may outweigh them, but this is an important consideration in penny-pinching times. Furthermore, the focus on Holocaust survivors could spark a wave of anti-Semitic sentiment that would benefit no one.
Those are the reasons I would vote against this bill, despite the inevitable political backlash. (And my grandmother would be mad, which is worse.) Existing Jewish organizations provide this kind of help to their seniors, especially survivors, every day, and they don’t need help from taxpayers outside their neighborhoods.