Volume 80, Number 41 | March 10 -16, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Once again senior centers are on the chopping block

By John Bayles

If the predicted cuts to the New York State budget for the upcoming fiscal year come to pass, more than 100 senior centers throughout the city could be forced to slash services or close altogether.

In Lower Manhattan, six senior centers would be affected, including the Bowery Residents’ Committee Senior Nutrition Program; Citizens Care Independence Plaza; Educational Alliance; LaGuardia Senior Center; Smith Houses Senior Center and University Settlement Nutrition.

According to City Councilmember Margaret Chin, her District 1 in Lower Manhattan would see the highest number of centers affected of any Council district in the city.

“I have reached out to my fellow elected officials at the state and federal level and we will stand united in protecting these six centers from being closed. Governor Cuomo’s budget again and again targets the most vulnerable members of our community,” Chin said in a statement.

State Senator Daniel Squadron said, “This is, in effect, a $25 million cut. This was proposed a year ago, as well, and we were able to fully restore the funds — there were no closures as a result of the state budget.”

Squadron was then chairing the Senate Committee on Social Services. That is no longer the case since Republicans took control of the state Senate in last November’s election.

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver also noted last year’s proposed cuts, stating, “Our senior centers are a lifeline for thousands of seniors across this community. Last year we fought and won restorations to keep senior centers in our neighborhoods open and I am committed to doing so again in this year’s state budget.”

And Squadron alluded to the recent shift in Albany as one reason the centers are once again on the chopping block.

“Social services do suffer when the Democrats are not in the majority,” Squadron noted.

Within days of the announcement of the proposed cuts, the consensus revenue forecast (an updated projection of revenue coming into the state for the next fiscal year) found an additional $155 million in revenue not reflected in the original budget forecast.

“All we need is $16 million to save 105 senior centers in New York City,” said Squadron.

That’s a “small” fraction, according to Squadron, of the additional money that was uncovered — or roughly 10 percent of the newfound revenue.

While it’s tough to predict exactly how many seniors would be affected by the cuts, in the case of University Settlement Nutrition, the cuts could mean closing its doors and stopping all service to 750 seniors who use the center for daily food, case assistance on all matters of basic living, recreation, social networking, emotional support during crises and transitions, and support for their extended families. Another 180 homebound seniors receive daily meals and have relationships with staff, who serve as a direct line of communication for more than just nutrition. An additional 125 seniors who attend the Bowery Residents’ Committee’s senior center on Delancey St. every day have their meals provided to them by University Settlement since the B.R.C. center does not have a kitchen.

“These senior centers are home to some of the proudest and most tenacious members of our community. Cutting funds severs a lifeline to integral healthcare, nutrition and counseling services,” stated Chin.

And as for her own district, the councilmember noted, “In District 1, these cuts disproportionately affect centers that serve Asian-American, immigrant and other underserved minority populations. It is because of this community’s widespread dependency on senior centers that we face such a high number of potential closures. It is textbook cutting services to those who rely on them the most.”

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