Thursday, June 17, 2010

Seniors Under Siege

Budget Cuts Threaten Local Centers

By Patricia Adams

Among the many casualties of proposed spending cuts by the Bloomberg administration is $44 million slated to be slashed from the Department for the Aging (DFTA). The result of such a cut will be the shuttering of 50 senior centers throughout the city by the end of June. The closures are expected to save the city $4.2 million.

The Wakefield Senior Center in South Ozone Park is one of 10 centers in Queens that could face the budget axe, and members of the center say they are devastated.Rose McGreevy, 78 is one of dozens of seniors who says she doesn’t know what to do about the possible closing.

“This is like our home away from home. If we don’t have this, there is really nothing. I guess we
would have to stay home and watch television if we can’t come here.”

But television, alone and at home, is hardly a suitable replacement for the joy and companionship so many seniors rely upon. Card games, bingo, trips to concerts and parks, parties, exercise and fitness, movie nights—not to mention the friendships forged and the company of peers. There is even some romance floating through the air between some of the seniors at Wakefield.

On Friday, about four dozen of the Wakefield seniors joined State Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), outside the center on Lefferts Boulevard at a rally to halt the cuts. Also on hand with Addabbo were Assemblywoman Michele Titus (D-South Ozone Park) and chair of Community Board 10, Betty Braton.

“Four million dollars will be saved, but in a budget of over $65 billion, surely he can find ways to save money without cutting senior centers,” the senator said. “Today, we are fighting for our seniors — seniors who saw no increase in their Social Security and who are so concerned about the future of their health care programs; seniors who are now facing locked doors on their local centers.”

According to Assemblywoman Titus, there is much more to the center than fun and games. She says considering some of the crucial “hidden” factors is essential. “These particular seniors are living in an area that has one of the highest foreclosure rates and predatory lending in the city,” said Titus.

“Wakefield, like so many other centers offers free programs and services that help the seniors understand the legal process and how they can be defrauded as victims of scams.” The centers “serve as a lifeline for thousands of seniors throughout the city and help them lead safe, successful and independent lives.”

Presently, there are more than 21,000 senior residents in the neighborhoods of South Ozone Park, Ozone Park and Howard Beach with only three centers available to them. It is estimated by Plan NYC 2030 that the senior population will grow by approximately 10,000 more within the next 20 years, in those communities alone.

Yet another key factor in maintaining the centers has been overlooked by the Bloomberg administration, according to CB 10 chair Betty Braton who notes, “The city’s criteria for judging the need for a center is the number of meals served.” According to Braton such criteria is faulty because most of the seniors, especially in Queens are not impoverished.

“While they may enjoy their meals here,” she says, “that is not what they are coming here for. These people are coming for the activities offered and to share times with their friends. That simply cannot be overlooked.”

And she is quick to point out that adding up all the seniors in the area clearly demonstrates an already severe shortage of centers without closing any. Although the city’s fiscal crisis and the uncertainty of the proposed cuts have been highly publicized, some seniors were still under the impression that a final decision had already been reached. Addabbo offered assurance that there was still time to make a difference.

“We are going to continue to fight for you and you can help by calling 311 and complaining about the cuts.”

“We have to speak up for our rights,” said 72-year-old Alexandra Kartsimabis, “good times are important for older people — if they get depressed they can get sick and have to spend more money on medicine and hospitals.”

In an effort to explore possible funding sources to keep the senior centers open, Addabbo is asking the Bloomberg administration to take a close look at city spending— especially on people who work for the city.

“Take for example city marshals who do the same work as the city sheriffs,” said Addabbo, “in 2008 they earned $43 million yet they only paid the city $2 million.”

The senator also brought up the fact that philanthropists should be allowed to sponsor the senior centers much like the agreement for charter schools. Ultimately he said, “The mayor and others can point fingers at the state, but that’s politics and right now our people are being victimized by politics.”

Should the Wakefield facility actually close, seniors from there would have to consider using the nearest open center in Howard Beach. But that is still miles away and for many, traveling there would require using public transportation.

“Even for seniors who don’t have a problem with their health the travel would cause disruption to their routines and bring on unnecessary stress,” said Betty Braton.

Albany lawmakers have also proposed cuts to funding for seniors and they are still trying to work out their final numbers, more than 10 weeks after the original budget was due.

If the cuts do go through, in addition to Wakefield, other Queens closures are the Woodhaven Senior Center, St. Mary’s Senior Center in Long Island City, Jackson Heights Senior Center, Astoria Senior Center, Whitestone Senior Center, Conlon in Jamaica, Foster Laurie Senior Center in St. Albans, Holliswood Senior Center, and South Jamaica Senior Center.

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