Wall Street Journal: Senior Centers May Face Ax
By Michael Howard Saul
March 4, 2011
Original available here
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration identified on Thursday the 105 senior centers the city plans to shutter if the state Legislature approves Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget proposal, a move that would mark the steepest cut to the facilities in New York City history.
Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, commissioner of the city's Department for the Aging, revealed the plan at a briefing with City Council members.
The cuts represent 41% of the city's 256 senior centers. The closings could begin as early as July 1 and would affect an estimated 8,000 seniors, some of whom are among the city's most vulnerable residents.
"I'm about to cry," said Carmen Ocasio, 75 years old, upon learning the Davidson Senior Center in the Bronx, where she attends, is on the chopping block. "This is my family. This is the only place I could be. Otherwise, I would be by myself."
Every year, as the city grapples with multibillion budget deficits, senior centers are among the first programs targeted for cuts. Last year, Mr. Bloomberg raised the specter of closing as many as 50 senior centers, and, following intense negotiations with the City Council, ended up closing 29.
The centers, funded primarily through federal money funneled through the state, serve meals, offer entertainment and act as social meccas for the city's elderly.
This year's potential closings—the result of a $25 million cut in state aid—are particularly daunting, in part, because the spots the city shuttered in 2010 had the least impact on the elderly, officials said.
"We will be closing the door on the fragile fingers of these seniors," said Council Member Jessica Lappin, chairwoman of the council's aging committee. "We're going to fight like hell and we're really going to mobilize."
After Mr. Cuomo finished delivering a speech about the state budget on Staten Island Thursday, Council Member Debi Rose, who is slated to lose three centers in her district, asked the governor to reconsider. Mr. Cuomo promised Ms. Rose he would "look at it again," she said.
Ms. Rose described these centers as the "lifeblood" of many elderly New Yorkers. "We're not going to let them throw grandma and grandpa under the bus."
Jeffrey Gordon, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo's budget division, said the governor has directed the $25 million that in years past had gone to senior centers to be allocated this year for child welfare services. The reallocation of this money "provides some state fiscal relief," he said.
"This is one of many decisions that are being made to prioritize limited resources during a fiscal challenge," he said, urging the city to fill the gap in funding for the senior centers.
Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for the mayor, said the state has cut more than $400 million in funding for social services and health and criminal justice programs. The mayor has already proposed allocating roughly $125 million in city taxpayer funds to fill that hole.
"Unfortunately, we don't have the money to cover all the cuts," Mr. LaVorgna said.
Rimas Jasin, executive director of Presbyterian Senior Services, will see three of the six senior centers operated closed under the city's plan. He said these facilities often provide seniors with their only nutritious meal of the day.
"If it weren't for those centers, those seniors are going to remain isolated in their own apartments, their health is going to decline," Mr. Jasin said.
Beverly Seignious, 67 years old and an attendee of Davidson, said she's hopeful the money will be restored. The center helps ward off depression and keeps her active, she said.
"This is an out for us," she said. "When you leave there, you're completely a different person."