Senior center funding freed

The last few months have been more than a roller-coaster ride for Donna Caltabiano, director of the financially beleaguered Forest Park Senior Center. “It’s been a ‘Perfect Storm,’ but it might be breaking.”
Caltabiano had run the center, at 89-02 91st Street in Woodhaven for 14 years, but was nearing the end of her rope, because all of her government funding had dried up.
At first the problem seemed to be a dispute between the Department for the Aging (DFTA) and the Borough President Helen Marshall.
“[She] had been giving us $100,000 a year out of her discretionary funds,” Caltabiano recalled, “but in June, DFTA said that it wasn’t hers to give.”
“We cannot give the money directly,” said Dan Andrews, a spokesperson for Marshall. “The Borough President allocates the money for a specific purpose, but DFTA distributes [it],” he said.
Like other city senior centers, Forest Park got caught up in Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed revamping of how senior centers were funded.
That was not good news for Caltabiano, who said that the center normally ran short of money toward the end of the year.
Last fall, then-state-senator Serphin Maltese presented the center with a symbolic check for $75,000 - but the money never arrived. Then, the Center’s other source of senate “Member Item” money, Anthony Seminario, was indicted.
Caltabiano also had benefactors in the City Council. Last year, Councilmember Joseph Addabbo allocated $5,500 for the Center and Anthony Como provided $8,750.
Neither of them are still there, Addabbo having moved up to the Senate and Como losing his seat to Elizabeth Crowley in November.
“I called her and she said she was trying to figure out where it is,” Caltabiano said. “It’s like a ‘Perfect Storm’,” she said, referring to the movie about a small boat ultimately swamped by a gigantic wave.
Things were looking hopeless; the Center’s debt had passed $25,000, Caltabiano stopped taking a salary, and pinched every penny, to the point of asking seniors for donations to the Center, just to stay afloat.
In what seemed like the final straw, on Friday, December 19, DFTA withdrew its Request for Proposals, the official mechanism for taking budget requests from the senior centers.
“I thought sure we would have to close, but in the last week, things got a little brighter,” she said.
The controversy over senior center funding, involving Mayor Bloomberg, DFTA, the City Council and all five Borough Presidents has passed for the moment.
“We, along with the Speaker of the City Council and the four other Borough Presidents, opposed having DFTA allocating the Borough President’s [discretionary funding] and now that situation has been resolved,” Andrews said, referring to the mayor’s office recently relenting on a controversial $117 million plan to restructure and modernize all 327 senior centers in one fell swoop.
“We finally got a call back after weeks of not hearing,” Caltabiano said. “It’s going to be a while before we actually see the money,” she conceded, “But we can get a low- or no-interest loan from the Fund for New York City.”
“The DFTA is working closely working closely with the Borough President’s office to process and facilitate Forest Park Senior Center’s allocation for this year,” said spokesperson Christopher Miller, who confirmed that any state money typically goes through DFTA.
“I hope she gets the no-interest loan,” said Roberta Goldenberg, director of the North Flushing Senior Center, who had teamed up with Caltabiano in trying get answers from DFTA.
“The Borough President money paid for our meal program,” she said.

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