New York City is home to approximately 1.6 million older adults whose cultures, personal experiences and shared identity as resilient New Yorkers make the City stronger. DFTA, as the New York City Department for the Aging is known, stands at the center, serving older New Yorkers through advocacy, direct services and partnerships with hundreds of community-based nonprofits. The mission to ensure the quality of life for older persons is greatly improved from Woodlawn in the Bronx to Floral Park in Queens and neighborhoods in between.
After serving as a senior adviser to Mayor Bill de Blasio, I am honored to serve as commissioner of DFTA and to achieve the Mayor’s vision of making New York one of the leading Age-friendly Cities in the country. We are poised to accomplish this with an increasingly diverse older population — economically, culturally, religiously and linguistically. Older New Yorkers primarily speak 14 languages, and more than 40 percent of seniors are foreign-born. As this immigrant population grows, especially the large Asian and Latino populations, we are redoubling our efforts to respond to the cultural differences of more communities. Simply put, immigration and economic status are never a barrier to receiving DFTA’s supportive services.
With that in mind, I expect to build on existing successes and shape a path to better serve all seniors for years to come. To date, this administration has allocated more than $90 million to DFTA — an unprecedented amount — bringing the agency’s current budget to $397 million. This funding has allowed for vital services.
The ThriveNYC DFTA Geriatric Mental Health Initiative breaks down stigmas by providing group engagement and one-on-one counseling in senior centers. Recently, the administration announced an additional $1.7 million that could double the number of Geriatric Mental Health sites. DFTA is also home to the successful ThriveNYC Friendly Visiting initiative, which has provided isolated seniors with more than 50,000 hours of visits from trained volunteers to date.
We are equally committed to providing more affordable senior housing through the Home Sharing Program. This case worker-led matching service pairs homeowners or leaseholders with people in need of housing; at least one housemate is 60 or older. In addition to splitting costs, home sharing combats social isolation and can promote intergenerational engagement between housemates.
For caregivers facing burnout, our Caregiver Resource Center has expanded respite services, giving them time to reset and recharge. Supporting caregivers, who are often women with full-time jobs outside the home, is central to strengthening families. The message is straightforward: Let us care for you while you care for others.
Looking ahead later this year, we plan to launch a pilot program for 24/7, app-based car service for seniors and people with limited mobility who live in parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens that are underserved by current transportation options. We are also planning requests for proposals for home-delivered meals and senior centers, with the senior center RFP potentially broadening our network by 2021.
Under Mayor de Blasio, DFTA is far from alone in this critical work. Older adults are greatly helped by services such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program through the Human Resources Administration; the Rent Freeze and Senior Citizen Homeowners’ Exemption programs through the Department of Finance; the Seniors First initiative with Housing Preservation and Development; and dozens of other programs outlined in “Age-friendly NYC: New Commitments for a City for All Ages.” Information about all of the City’s services are available by contacting 311.
I look forward to working with the Mayor’s Office, City Council and advocates to strengthen resources for aging services. One thing is clear: We share the same unwavering commitment to supporting older New Yorkers as they age in place with dignity.
Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez is commissioner of the New York City Department for the Aging. Prior to joining the de Blasio administration, she served in executive leadership roles with AARP, EmblemHealth and other organizations. She also served as New York’s first Latina Secretary of State.