By Rebecca Henely
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) blasted a House Republican proposal to cut the Social Services Block Grant, saying the plan could mean senior centers in the city and across the country could be forced to close.
“I don’t think that this center is wasteful spending,” Crowley told a crowd of more than 150 at the Elmhurst-Jackson Heights Senior Center, at 75-01 Broadway in Elmhurst.
Crowley, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, said the Republican members had introduced legislation to get rid of the grant program permanently.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website says the grant, which was $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2011, gives funding to programs for adults, people with disabilities and children. These services can include everything from adoption and case management to transportation and home-delivered meals. It also helps abused children.
New York City receives $63.9 million from the program, Crowley’s office said.
The congressman said the grant used to have bipartisan support, but has been proposed for elimination as a federal budget-cutting measure. Crowley characterized the proposed cut as the destroyer of an important safety net.
He said while cuts should be made, they should be focused on increasing taxes paid by richer residents or cutting defense spending.
“There needs to be a responsibility from the federal government to help our most vulnerable,” he said.
Crowley was joined at the center by representatives of numerous organizations to help seniors, including city Department for the Aging Commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, who said the grant program accounts for a third of the department’s funding and could force the agency to close more than 100 senior centers.
“It’s a really, really serious issue for us,” she said.
Suleika Cabrera-Driane, president of the Institute for Puerto Rican/Hispanic Elderly, said the cuts would be disastrous for the one out of three seniors who live below poverty level in New York City and who rely on the services of senior centers.
“This is sometimes the only meal that the seniors have every day,” Cabrera-Driane said.
Bobbie Sackman, of the Council of Senior Centers and Services, said she was also enraged by the proposal, which she said would put more of a burden on seniors.
“We seem to have one party in Washington that just says, ‘Suck it up,’” she said.
Crowley said like the threatened cuts to the public transportation funding stream, the cuts seemed to be an effort to undermine President Barack Obama in anticipation of the 2012 election.
“It’s an all-or-nothing war that’s going on right now,” Crowley said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.