It may not be the “Year of the Senior” after all.
Although it didn’t include the sharp funding increase that senior advocates had been asking for, the de Blasio administration defended its proposed budget for the city Department for the Aging during a May 8 City Council budget hearing.
The council released a budget response last month asking City Hall to increase its support for the department by $60 million over what de Blasio proposed in January. They said that funding would improve neighborhood senior centers, add resources to reduce the number of seniors waiting for home care and case management services, improve transportation and provide other services. New York City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who leads the council’s Aging Committee, and other advocates have recently adopted the “Year of the Senior” slogan to impress upon City Hall the need for more money.
But in his $84.9 billion spending plan released last month, de Blasio budgeted $310.1 million for the Department for the Aging, about $20.8 million less than the budget adopted last June, according to a City Council analysis.
Chin said the proposal made her “angry, but yet, determined.”
Much of the department’s budget goes to contracts for an array of nonprofit providers who run abuse prevention, case management, caregiving, home care, senior center, transportation and other services.
In recent years, senior centers have often been threatened with closure before ultimately getting funding restored in the adopted budget. They’re in a less precarious position this year, but advocates say that resources haven’t caught up with the need and a more secure funding stream would help them prepare for rapid growth in the senior population. By some estimates, seniors could comprise up to one-fifth of the city population by 2030.
One of the biggest concerns is getting providers enough funding to address growing waitlists for personalized services. There are about 1,700 people waiting for case management services, such as referrals for services, benefit evaluations, advocacy with landlords and utility companies, long-term counseling and other services, said Department for the Aging Commissioner Donna Corrado. Another 900 are waiting for home care services.
“I don’t understand why we have to continually fight for resources to address a waitlist for core (Department for the Aging) senior services every year, and why funding is not included in the agency’s budget to address the waitlist,” Chin said.
The City Council often allocates money to the department during the city budget adoption process; it added about $30.1 million for the current fiscal year.
Corrado listened to the concerns from the Council Members advocates and said this year’s budget wasn’t the only indicator of the administration’s willingness to spend on seniors. The proposed plan for the fiscal year that starts in July is about 9 percent more than the spending in 2015.
Corrado also said that through the 2018 fiscal year, the city’s baseline funding will have increased by $55 million since the final year of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration. She also said, apart from her department’s funding, tens of millions of dollars will be spent on affordable housing and the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption that will indirectly help seniors who “may not necessarily be the same seniors that are in our senior centers that need services.”
About 23 percent of the department’s funding is expected to come from the federal government, according to the City Council’s analysis. That led to some concern that the so-called “skinny budget” proposed by President Donald Trump in March would have reduced or eliminated some of the department’s programs, such as a health insurance information counseling and assistance program, the Foster Grandparent Program and some senior employment services, Corrado said. What those cuts will actually look like will become more apparent as federal budget negotiations continue through Oct. 1, the start of the federal fiscal year.
In addition, to the relief of senior advocates, a proposal backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to redirect Title XX funding – some of which goes to senior centers – wasn’t included in the state budget that passed in April.
Since the mayor’s preliminary budget proposal, City Hall has added $225,000 to the budget for mental health services for elder abuse victims and $220,000 for two other positions, according to the Council. But the uncertainty and incremental pace of these additions are not sitting well with everyone.
“In a city with a fiscal budget the size that it is, to sit here to talk about $445,000 for two new staff and a mental health program, I’m beyond words,” City Councilman Paul Vallone said.
Corrado said her department is working with the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service to analyze and redesign how it funds nearly 270 senior centers and what kinds of programs should be prioritized. “Senior centers developed over the decades in an unsystematic fashion without clear planning for shaping a system that allocates resources equitably in order to meet the diverse needs of communities across the city,” she said.
The department is also working with consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers to improve the delivery and quality of home delivered meals. “There’s 85 million different permutations and we basically have no control over the quality, the cost, the taste of the food or anything else,” Corrado said.