senior citizens rally

Jarrett Murphy

Senior meal funding was a prime topic on at a May 8 rally at City Hall.

Advocates for NYC’s aging population got much of what they requested in a budget deal approved by the City Council on Wednesday. Crucial requests were answered, including additional funding for meals at senior centers, and 10 of the 12 senior clubs previously slated to close will now stay open.

Additionally, seniors who need caregiver support but don’t qualify for Medicaid will no longer be left on a waitlist, thanks to City Council discretionary funds.

Overall, the budget for the Department for The Aging will grow 13 percent in 2020 from the previous year, reaching $411 million.

The approved budget provides $15 million in new yearly funding for food and kitchens at senior centers, consisting of a $10 million increase in 2020 and another $5 million bump in 2021. And an additional $2.84 million will go toward home-delivered meals.

This funding is separate from $20 million negotiated between the administration and City Council for DFTA’s “model food budget” in 2017, which will go toward programming and administrative staff. $10 million of that increase arrived in 2018 with the final $10 million planned to arrive in 2021.

Increased funding for senior center meals had long been a priority of advocates and Councilmember Margaret Chin, who chairs the City Council’s Committee on Aging. In 2018, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report on funding disparities in NYC’s senior center food budgets. At hearings in February and March, advocates complained that the last increase to senior center food budgets was in 2014, at 25 cents per meal and 50 cents per kosher meal. And it was estimated earlier this year that NYC spent 20 percent below the national average on senior meals, according to LiveOn NY.

“Our city budget will provide much-needed relief to the senior center providers and kitchen staffers working at the frontlines to ensure no senior goes hungry,” Chin said in a press release on Wednesday evening.

The closing of NYCHA- and DFTA-managed senior clubs has also been a point of controversy, after the mayor’s executive budget proposed closing 12 clubs in order to save $885,000. The city claimed the clubs were poorly attended and not accessible for people with disabilities, but attendees and Councilmembers railed against the administration for closing, rather than fixing them. In the new budget, the Council secured $2.1 million to keep 10 of those clubs open, presumably with plans to make repairs and ensure they are ADA compliant.

The City Council will still try to save the remaining two clubs that are closing but have not yet reached a deal to do so. A list of clubs still slated to close was not available at press time.

The budget also includes $2.8 million to ensure that pro bono nurse services remain at the city’s Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, or NORCs, senior service centers built into apartment complexes that have a high population of elderly residents. New NORCs will also be established throughout the city thanks to funding from both the City Council and the administration.

A program that has been subject to criticism by the Council is getting new funding as well. The City Council will send $450,000 to Social Adult Day Cares, Medicaid-funded programs which are meant to provide stimulation for high-need seniors. Chin has repeatedly criticized the proliferation of these programs, some of which have been found to serve fast food to low-income immigrants and offer no real activities. In her home borough of Manhattan*, these day cares outnumber senior centers by a two-to-one margin.

The Council’s money will go to increasing “activities, transportation, outreach and participation,” in these day-cares so that their programming better targets high-need populations, especially those with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

City Limits has also learned that the new budget should close a gap for seniors who need caregivers in NYC. The City Council will provide $1 million in discretionary funding for EISEP, which provides caregiver support for frail seniors who don’t qualify for Medicaid. That program has a waitlist of about 1,100, according to DFTA testimony at a May budget hearing. The program is funded by the state and city, but the $3.9 million in additional state funding for FY2020 was not estimated to be enough to close that wait list.

* Correction: The original version of this article erroneously reported Chin’s home borough as Queens.