City officials push back against state budget proposal that could hurt or close elder facilities
By Madeleine Thompson
At the Independence Plaza North senior center in Lower Manhattan last Thursday, about 30 seniors listened to State Senator Daniel Squadron warn that they could lose their home. A funding cut proposed in the state budget could eliminate $17 million from Title XX, a provision of the Social Security Act pertaining to social services and elder justice.
Squadron visited several senior centers in his district on Feb. 23 to gather signatures for a petition against the funding cuts. “What that means is as many as 65 senior centers could be threatened and closed, and more than that could have their services reduced,” Squadron said. “The cuts from this program make no sense at all. Too often the people in Albany and the lobbyists are the loudest voices.”
Adele Pagano, 86, has been a resident or member of Independence Plaza North since it opened more than a decade ago. Over lunch with friends Anna Curreli, 84, and Purtia Lessey, 68, she described the possibility of the center closing as “a tragedy.” Curreli and Lessey like going on the center’s trips to, for example, Atlantic City, and they all enjoy exercise classes, meals and friendship within its walls. “This is the only senior center for miles around,” Pagano said. “There’s enough rich people around here to do something about it.”
In a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Manhattan and Brooklyn borough presidents Gale Brewer and Eric Adams urged the potential cuts to be dropped. “Your budget proposal would require a set amount of federal Title XX funds to be used to support child care subsidy costs, instead of leaving the discretion to the counties on how to use the funding,” they wrote. “We understand the importance of supporting both seniors and children, and are disappointed that you would move to pit our youngest and oldest generations against one another.” Similar funding cuts were proposed in 2011, but fervent opposition changed state lawmakers’ minds. According to Brewer and Adams’ letter, theirs was one of 14,000 that have been written by 4,500 people to protest the proposed cuts.
Sandy Gabin, director of the senior center at Our Lady of Pompeii in Greenwich Village, said New York City’s senior centers need more funding, not less. “It’s a threat to people’s security,” Gabin said. She recounted a story about a woman who came to the center one day looking somewhat gray and asked Gabin to call the police because she thought she was having a heart attack. “And she was,” Gabin said. “I saw her months later on the street and she said, ‘I came because I knew I would be safe.’”
Gabin’s center isn’t residential, but provides meals, music and exercise classes, tax preparation and other resources for 70-85 seniors in the area. She would like to be able to do more, and estimated that a $20,000 supplement to the center’s roughly $100,000 budget would accomplish that. If the budget is passed with the proposed cuts intact, however, simply staying open would be a relief.
Comptroller Scott Stringer, who visited the seniors at Our Lady of Pompeii last Friday afternoon, called senior centers “the best investment you could make.” “They provide a vital service to the community,” he said. “Their network has to be supported. There’s money, you just have to make it a priority.”
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at email@example.com