By Rebecca Henely
State Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) announced the state Legislature has enacted emergency extender legislation to keep multiple city senior centers open, including the Woodside and SelfHelp Maspeth senior centers.
“I think 110 senior centers were saved by restoring the funds,” said Matthew Ancona, director of the Woodside Senior Center.
According to Markey’s office, these funds restore full discretionary Title XX funding, which is essential for senior center operations.
Jessica Bassett, spokeswoman for the state Division of Budget, said this is a bloc grant from the state to the city, some of which is for state-mandated purposes and the rest of which — discretionary funding amounting to about $37 million — is distributed to local social service operations.
Mike Armstrong, spokesman for Markey, said this is the first part of a two-step process. In the first step, which is the current one, funds are provided for a certain purpose. In the next step, the city officially allocates the funds for that purpose.
“The funding matches what [the senior centers] got last year from the state,” he said.
Ancona said the restoration of the discretionary funding is crucial. This year all senior centers took a 4.5 percent budget cut and two years ago senior centers were hit with a 3 percent cut. He said this year the center has already had to cut its yoga teacher, exercise teacher and receptionist and its computer person’s hours were cut back.ï»¿
“How can I be a wellness center if I just cut out my yoga and exercise teacher?” he asked.
Operations for the Woodside Senior Center, at 50-37 Newtown Road ï»¿require at least $300,000 a yearï»¿, Ancona said, although the budget often runs higher. The difference needs to be made up with fund-raising, which is becoming increasingly difficult.
“The seniors are in bad shape,” he said. “They’re being strapped. They don’t know if they should take their medication. They don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”
Ancona said on an average day Woodside serves between 80 and 110 seniors. He said he believed those who visit senior centers get about five to seven extra years of life, as the seniors now spend their time doing activities and meeting friends instead of vegetating at home.
“I don’t care how small the senior center is,” he said, “these are people’s livelihoods we’re messing with.”
Fifty city senior centers are closing as of June 30, Ancona said, and the discretionary funding will keep open the 110 that may have closed.
“The severe economic downturn and this unprecedented fiscal crisis have forced us to accept reductions to programs and services we deeply believe in,” Markey said in a press release. “However, I am proud that we were able to win restorations that will keep senior centers open and restore critical funding for our youth.”
The SelfHelp Maspeth Senior Center, at 69-61 Grand Ave., ï»¿would not comment at this time.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.