Services abound for boro seniors unaware of programs

By Zach Patberg

At a March 30 town hall meeting hosted by Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis), particular attention was placed on programs to assist seniors with living costs, drug prescriptions and post-retirement employment. The Department For the Aging, for instance, has taken steps to make the elderly more aware of its Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemptions — a benefit that about 80,000 city seniors do not utilize even though rents are “increasing by leaps and bounds,” according to Department for Aging Assistant Commissioner Sonia Rodriquez. With the Home Energy System Program, they can get help with their heating bills as well, Rodriquez told the some hundred Fresh Meadows, Bayside and Flushing area residents in a Queensborough College lecture hall last week. She stressed that seniors should keep up to date with health care opportunities, including a prescription drug system that is “about to take a dramatic change.” Under the Health Instruction and Information Council program and the Information and Referral unit, they can sidestep restrictions in obtaining discounted drugs and can avoid time-consuming eligibility screenings through the Department for Aging's one-stop process that can grant them up to 18 benefits.”It's an hour worth your while,” Rodriquez said.She pointed to other available services, such as a grandparent resource center, part-time employment assistance and a videotape called “It's My Money” that warns seniors of predatory lending and scams.Sam Miller, assistant commissioner of the Department of Finance, also encouraged home owners to benefit from the STAR program, which saves those eligible $225 a year in taxes, and even more for seniors under the Senior Home Owners Exemption.Still, some in the crowd were unhappy about another issue: the shortage of housing for seniors.Theresa Schultz, of Flushing, stood up and asked why it took so long for her 67-year-old sister to find an apartment. Isabel Wilkens, a retired housekeeper who receives $580 a month from Social Security, has slept on the couch in the Schultz's family's cramped apartment for the last five years while searching for an affordable place of her own.”It's no way for a senior to live,” Schultz said.Both Weprin and Ruth Mingoia, director of administrative services for the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, agreed at the meeting that finding affordable independent living for seniors should be an easier task. Mingoia cited programs that assisted with loans, home improvement and cost-efficient living.Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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