BY JAMES FARRELL
Queens elected officials joined seniors and advocates in organizing rallies and issuing statements in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposals, which some fear would amount to a substantial cut in funding to the city’s senior centers in order to increase funding to child care services.
Some estimates say that the proposal could force as many as 65 senior centers to close. That would account for approximately 24 percent of the city’s senior centers, according to an analysis by the Department for the Aging’s center directory. There are 53 senior centers in Queens.
Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) held a rally at one of those centers: the SelfHelp Clearview Senior Center in Bay Terrace. Alongside state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows), Braunstein called on Cuomo to reconsider the proposal. Between 65 and 70 seniors attended the event.
“The point of the protest was to urge seniors and the public to write letters and call Governor Cuomo’s office and let him know that in a final budget before April 1, we’re pushing him to restore this funding,” Brausntein told the Queens Tribune.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) held a similar rally with dozens of seniors at the Services Now for Adult Persons (SNAP) Center of Eastern Queens.
“Today, people are living longer than ever and need some assistance in maintaining a good quality of life in a state they helped build,” said Avella. “If these funds are redirected, albeit to a good cause, there is no guarantee that the city would step in and help provide the funding that these senior centers require to serve the senior community.”
Cuomo’s budget proposal dictates how federal Title XX funding, also known as the Social Services Block Grant, will be spent. Title XX provides counties with funding for various social services, such as protections for domestic-violence services and community-based care.
According to the FY 2018 Budget Briefing Book, released by the governor’s office, of the $98 million allocated to New York State under Title XX, $66 million goes to adult protective and domestic-violence services, while another $27 million is allocated to counties to be used at their discretion. Under Cuomo’s budget proposals, that funding would be restricted to child care services. That funding has traditionally provided upwards of $17 million to senior services and senior centers, advocates say.
But critics argue that the proposal pits children and senior citizens against each other in a battle for funding. In a letter to Cuomo, 10 social services groups—including children’s social services groups such as the Citizens’ Committee for Children and the Center for Children’s Initiatives, and senior advocacy groups such as
LiveOn NY and AARP-NY—expressed that same concern.
“We understand and support the need for increased child care funding to comply with federal mandates and preserve system capacity,” the letter reads. “But this funding must not be at the expense of older adults and other vulnerable populations throughout the state.”
At this point, there is no definitive list of senior centers that could be vulnerable, which is making many seniors worried about the future.
“We’re kind of operating like we’re under the same risk as every other senior center in the city,” said Sandy Myers, of SelfHelp Community Services, which operates several senior centers in Queens and New York City at large.
Lester David Rosengard, 74, is a senior at SelfHelp’s Clearview center, where Braunstein held his rally. He’s been coming to the center for three years. He said he would lose crucial opportunities for socialization if the center was shut down, given that he and other seniors come for classes, exhibits and other activities.
“I’d be more isolated. Definitely more isolated. No place to go,” he said. “This is socialization for them a lot,” he said of other seniors.
The response has been swift from centers across the state, according to Bobbie Sackman, director of Public Policy for LiveOn NY, which has been tracking seniors’ reactions. Since the budget proposal was announced, 121 senior centers have sent more than 16,000 letters combined to Cuomo’s office.
“It sent a shockwave through the senior center community,” she said.
Freeman Kloplott, a representative from the New York State Division of the Budget, explained that the redirection of funds would be accompanied by an overall increase in funding.
“We are directing Title XX funds to child care, while increasing total funding to New York City by $400 million,” he said.
The city Department of the Aging did not respond to a request for comment.
Braunstein explained that, now that the governor’s proposal is out, the state Senate and Assembly will release their ideal budgets.
“I’m confident that once we release our Assembly budget proposal, within that over $150 billion spending document, we will outline how we could pay to keep the $17 million for the senior centers as well as increase funding for child care subsidies,” he said.