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Gioia decries proposals to cut Meals on Wheels

By Tom Nicholson

The program, which provides hot meals daily to about 4,000 seniors throughout Queens, may be replaced by a pilot program the Department for the Aging is starting up in the Bronx that would instead provide frozen meals once or twice weekly, Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Astoria) said.

“As a former Meals on Wheels volunteer, I know firsthand that oftentimes the only thing standing between a homebound senior and a lonely, hungry night is a hot meal delivered with a warm smile,” Gioia said.

Department for the Aging officials said the down-scaling of the program comes as a result of budget cuts the agency is facing from Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 2004 budget proposal.

According to the Department for the Aging, the pilot program proposes cuts in a number of key service areas. Under the new program, 70 percent of meals would be delivered hot each day, while the remainder would consist of frozen meals delivered once or twice weekly. The allocation for the meal providers, which are private companies contracted to prepare and deliver to Meals on Wheels clients, would be reduced to $5 per meal, which Gioia said would cause them to scrimp on quality.

Gioia said the Department for the Aging is planning to expand the pilot program into Queens.

“I strongly condemn these misguided attempts to balance the city's budget on the backs of those who can least afford it,” Gioia said.

Senior citizens' advocates want the city to reconsider how to make budget cuts.

“When the administration rolls out a pilot program making cuts to Meals on Wheels without soliciting any community input, our seniors lose,” said Bobbie Sackman, director of public policy for the Council of Senior Centers and Services.

Sackman said the Department for the Aging “should withdraw this ill-conceived proposal.”

At Sunnyside Community Services, Executive Director Judy Zangwill said the food and the visitation from others that seniors there get from Meals on Wheels is often the most important part of their day.

“Many of our seniors depend on Meals on Wheels to provide a hot meal along with some much-needed human contact six days per week,” Zangwill said. “These cuts would be extremely detrimental to the well-being of thousands of seniors.”

Reach reporter Tom Nicholson by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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