Madoff screws women's groups, reproductive rights issues

As if the down economy wasn't bad enough, the unwravelling of Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme has many women's groups struggling for new funding.

Many are facing deep cuts from foundations that were invested with Madoff, who federal authorities have accused of operating a fraudulent $50 billion investment fund that paid out fake profits.

These include the $1 billion Picower Foundation, a major supporter of reproductive rights issues, and the JEHT Foundation, which funds the Stop Prisoner Rape Project and the Women's Prison Association's Institute on Women in Criminal Justice, among other criminal and juvenile justice reform initiatives.

Both have shut down in the wake of Madoff's arrest.

Planned Parenthood groups are reportedly losing $734,000 from Picower, as well as the Shapiro Foundation and Steven Spielberg's Wunderkinder Foundation.

Across the nation, other victims include the Rape Foundation in Santa Monica, Calif., Women's Care Cottage in North Hollywood, Calif., the Center for Traumatic Grief and Victim Service in Moorestown, N.J., Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., Casa Myrna Vasquez in Boston, Mass., and NARAL Pro-Choice America in Washington, D.C. In New York alone, Family Justice Inc., the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and Girls Inc., among other groups, all lost funding in the scheme. The Center for Reproductive Rights, a global advocacy organization for women's reproductive rights based in New York, lost $600,000 in funding from Picower in 2009.

"We are still absorbing the impact of it," Nancy Northup, the group's president, recently told wowOwow. "We're going to fight like heck to try to make up that loss as much as we can, but it's a very substantial setback."

Northup said the group, which has a staff of 60 and receives half of its funding from individual donors, is currently seeking alternative funding to make up the shortfall.

Hardest hit was perhaps The Women's Zionist Organization, which supports health care in Israel and the U.S. and lost $90 million to Madoff.

"Falling victim to this unprecedented fraud will require us to make necessary adjustments," the organization said in December, pledging to continue to pursue its mission.

While these and other women's groups are now struggling, in some cases concerned Americans are coming to the rescue. In December, Elizabeth Stone House, a group that helps women cope with mental illness, domestic violence and homelessness, saw its annual appeal surpass fundraising efforts from a year ago.

"American people know that even when things are bad and your portfolio has hit rock bottom, there are people worse off and you have to take care of them, too," said Nancy Owens Hess, the group's co-executive director.

Deborah Barrow is the Editor-in-Chief of wowOwow, a free daily website created, run and written by Lesley Stahl, Peggy Noonan, Liz Smith, Joni Evans, Mary Wells, Sheila Nevins, Joan Juliet Buck, Whoopi Goldberg, Julia Reed, Joan Ganz Cooney, Judith Martin, Candice Bergen, Lily Tomlin, Jane Wagner, and Marlo Thomas.
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