‘We implore the new administration to seriously consider the Human Services Council #JustPay campaign, and ensure that all New York City contracted employees, who on a daily basis perform critical lifesaving work, make a living wage.’

Adi Talwar

A late October afternoon bingo game in progress at the PSS King Towers Senior Center in Harlem.

Our new mayor, administration, and city council have taken office at a challenging time for New York City—but especially for our city’s seniors. The latest wave of COVID-19 has continued to affect older New Yorkers at a disproportionate rate, causing hospitalization and death in worst cases, and leading to continued social isolation for many others.

When our new elected representatives talk about COVID recovery, it’s imperative that they prioritize the needs of older New Yorkers. At Encore Community Services, we see these needs up close and work daily to keep seniors healthy, safe, and connected to community.

When the city locked down in the Spring of 2020, we received an immediate explosion in requests for home-delivered meals. We pulled out all the stops to respond to this demand while the city created “Get Food NYC”, an emergency food program which served New Yorkers of all ages, including tens of thousands of seniors. When the program was winding down this fall, 19,000 seniors continued to rely on food from this program. Those meals are now being delivered by senior service providers, including Encore, as part of a Recovery Meal program that is set to expire in June.

Our city needs to be thinking now about how to meet the long-term nutrition needs of older New Yorkers, which even before the pandemic were significant—1 in 4 older adults living at home were at risk for hunger.

Though the pandemic has put the vulnerability of older New Yorkers in particularly stark light, their needs have been increasing for years. The challenges facing older New Yorkers will only continue to grow, as the older adult population is one of the fastest-growing demographics in New York. And while living in New York City on a fixed income has always been a challenge, future seniors have lower overall savings and are less likely to have pensions. As a whole, current and future seniors are less stable than they would have been years ago—and the number of individuals in this category is increasing.

In New York City, 1.24 million residents are over the age of 65, and in the past 10 years, that number increased twelve times faster than the city’s under-65 population. Adequately addressing food insecurity, housing stability, financial wellness, and the health implications of social isolation are of increasing importance.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit sector that provides services on behalf of the of the city has had to contend with numerous issues with the contracting process, including a convoluted RFP process, delays in contracting and being asked to provide services without a contract even being registered, as well as late payments, and having to contend with unfunded mandates. The result is serious cash-flow issues for nonprofits, and poverty-level wages and a lack of job stability for essential workers.

We must do right by our city’s seniors, and we need the city to do right by nonprofits to accomplish this. Implementing the increased meal reimbursements rates promised by the Department for the Aging in December is a great starting point, but we need to pay more attention to older New Yorkers and invest in the organizations, and the essential workers trying to serve them.

It’s imperative that the city baseline funds to continue meals for the thousands of older New Yorkers in the Recovery Meals program, and the many more who are aging in the shadows. We implore the new administration to seriously consider the Human Services Council #JustPay campaign, and ensure that all New York City contracted employees, who on a daily basis perform critical lifesaving work, make a living wage.

By all indications, Mayor Eric Adams and the new City Council representatives care deeply about both workers and vulnerable New Yorkers. We hope they take this opportunity to address the issues facing senior services, and create an inclusive New York where we all have the opportunity to age with dignity and self-reliance, surrounded by a safe and caring community.

Jeremy Kaplan is the executive director of Encore Community Services.

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