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Seniors wonder about budget cuts at centers

With about 30 percent of New York City’s senior population living in Queens - and with budget cuts going into effect - many are wondering how their local senior center will fare.
“We’ve already been notified by the city Department for the Aging (DFTA) that all senior centers funded by DFTA are facing a three percent cut in base grants,” said Ike Albala, Director of the Howard Beach Senior Center. “We’ve heard a lot of rumors.”
Christopher Miller, DFTA spokesperson, said, “[We’ve] asked for a three percent reduction across the board for all contracted services. At this point no decisions have been made and there are no plans.”
He went on to explain that DFTA is “Working with all our community partners to be creative about that reduction so that there are few [cuts] to seniors,” and that DFTA encourages eligible residents to go to senior centers to get their meals.
Albala went on to explain to The Courier that the Center’s only state funding has been that of politicians’ discretionary funds - like Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer.
The Center’s operating budget, Albala said, based on DFTA’s grant allocations, for the fiscal year from July 2008 through June 2009, “will be about $400,000.”
For the fiscal year ending June 2008, he said, it was $411,000 from DFTA. This number, Albala noted, included local discretionary fund allocations from city councilmembers and the borough president.
The Howard Beach Senior Center, which offers a wide variety of classes and activities to attendees, is contracted with the city to have an average of 180 people for lunch per day, according to Albala.
But they usually average between 140 to 150 people a day, he said.
“It’s another kick in the budget,” Albala told The Courier, noting that, in the past, DFTA has deducted from its reimbursement to the Center for the number of people under quota.
With $1.95 back per person, Albala said it is not enough.
He explained that the Center provides kosher meals, as they are housed in the Rockwood Park Jewish Center - meals which are higher in cost - and that the cost of food in general has risen. Last year, he said, DFTA gave an additional 15 to 20 cents per meal for kosher meals.
Though member contributions for meals is optional, effective September 15, Albala said, the recommended donation per lunch would be $2, up from $1.50.
“If there are cuts in other sources of income - like discretionary funds - if that happens, we’ll have to make some changes,” said Albala. “It might impact programs. It will have a ripple effect.”
For more information on the Howard Beach Senior Center, located at 156-45 84th Street, call 718-738-8100. There is no cost to seniors. The only criterion for eligibility is that you have to be 60 or older or married to someone who is. Transportation can be provided.

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