By Dustin Brown
Proposed funding cuts to programs for the borough’s elderly may force some to shutter entirely and prompt many more to cut back on meal and transportation services, providers testified last week.
At a May 7 meeting of the City Council Committee on Aging held at the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council, senior citizens gathered to protest cuts that have been proposed as part of the city’s effort to bridge an estimated $5 billion budget gap.
“Some of the budget cuts that are proposed for the Department for the Aging are going to be detrimental to their quality of life,” City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village), a member of the committee, said in a telephone interview last week.
The large crowd showed strength in numbers, with seniors outlining their demands on placards they carried in their hands. Meanwhile, directors and staff members of some of the borough’s senior service providers explained the dire future their programs and the elderly would face should the cuts become a reality.
Pat Wilks, the public affairs director for the city Department for the Aging, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the mayor’s preliminary budget plan has slashed its funding by 15 percent. The department, in turn, has responded by cutting everything it funds by 2 percent and eliminating programs that duplicate services already offered nearby.
“The services and meals won’t be lost. All the money is just going to go across the street,” Wilks said. “We’re trying to make the most painless choices as possible.”
Senior services may also suffer from drastic cuts the mayor has made in discretionary funds distributed by city councilmen and borough presidents, which finance many senior programs.
But Gallagher said he is going to fight for some of that funding to be restored.
“While I’m perfectly cognizant of the enormity of the deficit and how it’s going to affect this city, I still believe that we have to try as a City Council to negotiate some restorations for the Department for the Aging, so we can save some programs that really do provide essential services for our seniors,” he said.
Among the programs that may face elimination are the Queens Multi Service Center and Helping Hands at the Ridgewood Older Adult Center, both of which provide entitlement services that offer guidance to senior citizens applying for government programs such as Medicaid or food stamps.
“While we all understand the need for balancing the budget and reducing debt, it is unfortunate that once again the senior citizens of our community will have to pay the price,” testified Roseann Rosado, the director of the Queens Multi Service Center on Myrtle Avenue in Glendale.
The center draws most of its support from discretionary funding awarded by the borough president and City Council, but the mayor’s suggested cut of $65,000 in council money would likely shut it down and leave seniors stranded, with no comparable programs nearby.
“Should we in fact lose this funding, we will be forced to close our doors entirely, depriving the community of the other services and programs housed at our center, as well,” Rosado said.
If the Helping Hands program were to lose its funding from the city Department for the Aging, 215 clients would stop receiving case assistance and 40 homebound seniors would lose shopping and chore service, testified Patricia Wade, the executive director of the Ridgewood Older Adult Center.
“Our seniors rely upon the Helping Hands program to help them live an independent life,” said Rafaela Santiago, a case aide at the Ridgewood Older Adult Center. “It is a needed service because many seniors have problems getting to the city agencies that serve them.”
If the Glenridge Senior Citizen Multiservice and Advisory Center loses more than $13,000 in discretionary funds it gets from the borough president, 30 senior citizens in its homebound program would stop receiving daily meals.
Patricia Dolan, the director of Queens Connection, a Forest Hills Community House program that coordinates paratransit services for borough seniors, called on the City Council to protect the van and bus programs that allow the elderly to travel on errands and to doctor’s appointments while still living at home.
“Seniors have no place to turn but to local senior service providers,” she testified. “We are depending on you to provide the continuity of service for the frailest among us.”
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.