President Obama long has said that, as Americans, we must look out for each other and exemplify the values expressed in the adage – I am my brother’s keeper.
That is why Vice President Biden announced last December that the Administration is undertaking a targeted effort to support the needs of Holocaust survivors living in the United States.
This is a community of elderly Americans who are seeking to live their lives with the comfort and dignity that they deserve, but they face significant struggles. They are disproportionally likely to be living in poverty: 25 percent of Holocaust survivors residing in the United States live at or below the Federal poverty line, compared to nine percent of the overall population of individuals 65 and older.
Part of the Administration’s targeted effort to support the community is the creation of a new position at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to assist victims of Nazi persecution living in the United States.
Today, we are announcing that Aviva Sufian, who serves in the Administration for Community Living (ACL) at HHS, will serve as the first “Special Envoy for U.S. Holocaust Survivor Services.” As the Director of Regional Operations at ACL, Aviva is focused on helping to maximize the independence, well-being and health of older adults, people with disabilities and their families and caregivers. In her role as Special Envoy, Aviva will also act as an advocate for the specific needs of Holocaust survivors.
Her work as Special Envoy will focus on those survivors currently living in poverty, as well as those who may not be receiving services for which they are currently eligible. She will coordinate with colleagues at HHS and across the Federal government to advance programs that help Holocaust survivors, including national service programs such as AmeriCorps VISTA. She will also collaborate with nonprofit organizations and the private sector to raise awareness about the needs of this vulnerable population and explore public-private partnerships that could provide additional support.
Aviva joined the Administration in October 2009 at the U.S. Social Security Administration, where she worked on a variety of issues related to both aging and disability. Previously, she worked for the New York City Department for the Aging and at a large nonprofit organization that provided support for Holocaust survivors living in the New York metropolitan area.
Among her first priorities, Aviva will meet with survivors, their children, and the organizations that support them to hear firsthand about their needs.
As Vice President Biden said to an audience last December, “The Jewish community has been leading this [work] for decades. The President and I have decided it’s time for us to step up and build on your efforts.” The appointment of Aviva Sufian as Special Envoy is an important milestone in our effort to enable this population to age with dignity and support in the comfort of their homes and their communities.
Jonathan Greenblatt is Special Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the Domestic Policy Council.