Senior Centers A Budgetary Target
Unless Mayor Bloomberg gets $25 million worth of state funding he plans to close more than 100 senior centers throughout the city, two of which are located on the Rockaway peninsula. Bloomberg’s senior center hit list plans to shutter centers located at 90-01 Rockaway Beach Boulevard and the Young Israel of Wavecrest Senior League in Far Rockaway, among 103 others throughout the five boroughs.
The closures, planned to occur before the summer, come as a result of the state threatening to pull Title XX funding away from senior centers, which have become somewhat reliant on that money to continue operation. Title XX funds are provided by the federal government to New York State and are in part mandated to be used towards youth-oriented initiatives, adult protective services and domestic violence programs. However, roughly $25 million in discretionary funds provided under Title XX has traditionally gone towards keeping senior centers funded. Governor Cuomo is now looking to revoke those discretionary funds as part of many cost cutting measures taking place during budget negotiations in Albany.
State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer believes it is just downright “mean,” however, to scare seniors into thinking their centers are closing when it’s possible, and she feels it’s likely, that funding will be restored either through Title XX or an alternative method.
While Pheffer feels the programs mandated in Title XX are necessary, she admits the senior centers cannot absorb that kind of hit in funding and still remain open without another source of financial support. She remains optimistic that Albany will find a way to provide the monies necessary to keep the centers open, even if it fails to come from Title XX.
“I was very upset the mayor put out the list,” Pheffer said this week. “One thing wonderful about the seniors are they join together to fight for an issue. These are just budget negotiations right now. I feel confident we will put back the money necessary.”
Pheffer says a resolution to the issue can come as early as next week and couldn’t understand why the mayor would choose to put out this list and provide no rationale to the public as to why one center is closing as opposed to another.
“In Rockaway if these centers close they truly will have no place to go,” she said. “The closest center to Beach 90 Street is at Beach 106 Street and they have no more room. The same applies to Far Rockaway where some centers receive at least 80 to 100 seniors in attendance daily.”
Seniors are a priority for her, she said. “If there will be cuts they must be fair. We’re looking through lots of alternatives.”
City Councilmember Eric Ulrich feels the state is turning its back on the seniors and should never have thought about revoking the Title XX funds away from senior centers.
“Once again Albany is turning its back on our most vulnerable citizens in an attempt to balance their budget. The time has come for our state legislators to step up to the plate and restore these critical funds. People in their golden years need to stay active, and these community centers are often their only opportunity to socialize with neighbors and get a hot meal.”
Pheffer does admit she was surprised by the Governor’s decision but says it’s all part of negotiating the budget.
“We have to put the budget together and then negotiate on what we need to keep,” Pheffer said. “Seniors are and will always be a priority.”
Councilmember James Sanders, however, was up in arms about the state’s decision. He says the reasoning provided to him by the New York City Department for the Aging was that Young Israel of Wavecrest Senior League does not provide enough daily meals to warrant funding and continued operation. The daily number of meals he says is 85.
“The Young Israel Senior League serves a vital population of the vibrant Rockaway community,” Sanders said. “The League is one of a handful of seniors’ centers with an explicit focus on the Jewish population, and should not be targeted simply because it fails to comply with the random meal serving standards of the City of New York.”