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CB 8 slams city’s plan to cut senior services

Community Board 8 members unanimously threw their support at the board’s Dec. 10 meeting behind a resolution against the city’s plan to cut its senior meal program and revamp the way it runs its senior centers.

The city Department for the Aging’s decision to reduce the number of meals brought to seniors by the Home−Delivered Meals Program from five hot meals to three frozen meals per week will be a devastating blow to the older Queens residents, community board members said.

“It’s a lifeline for some people,” said Mary Maggio Fischer, chairwoman of the CB 8 Aging Committee. “Also, the people delivering the meals may be the only people the seniors are in contact with all day. Maybe a senior has no family. These people delivering the meals are talking to them, spending time with them.”

Seniors across the five boroughs have been protesting a request for proposals planned by the DFTA to “modernize” its senior center program, which department representatives said would increase the use of senior centers but decrease the total number of the centers.

“Now they want to close centers and combine centers?” Maggio Fischer said. “Say a center you could walk to gets closed, and then you’d have to go a mile away to get to another senior center, but the city won’t provide transportation for you. How are you supposed to get there?”

DFTA representatives could not be reached for comment. DFTA Commissioner Edwin Mendez−Santiago handed in his resignation letter Monday, effective at the end of the year, without providing a reason.

The news that DFTA officials wanted to streamline senior programs and services has not sat well with many City Council members, including James Gennaro (D−Fresh Meadows), who railed against the move at a Dec. 4 hearing about the DFTA’s plans.

“The city’s current restructuring for senior citizen services may help in some ways, but is hurting in many others,” Gennaro said. “I’ve worked closely with dedicated senior advocates and some of my colleagues in the City Council to devise an 11−point plan because 10 just isn’t enough that I have presented to the Bloomberg administration and hope will make life a little easier for our older New Yorkers.”

Gennaro’s plan includes calling on the Bloomberg administration to involve more senior service providers in discussions about changes to senior centers and services, holding off on the Meals on Wheels contract to serve only three frozen meals a week and asking state and city governments to “baseline” senior services, which would guarantee a certain amount of funding in each year’s budget.

“On behalf of the 300,000 seniors served each year by neighborhood−based providers, (the Council of Senior Centers & Services of New York City) is concerned that the city is headed in the wrong direction with the … reorganization,” said Bobbie Sackman, director of public policy of the Council of Senior Centers & Services of New York City, in a prepared statement.

“We are calling on the city to stop the Meals on Wheels contract and the senior center RFP. There are too many changes too quickly without enough resources, and seniors are falling through the cracks,” Sackman said.

Maggio Fischer said she has not been informed if senior centers in the area represented by CB 8 will be closing, but she said no senior center in the city should be forced to close.

“We owe a lot to the seniors,” Maggio Fischer said. “Communities wouldn’t be what they are without the seniors. You can’t push them aside. It’s time for us to give back to those who gave to us. What are we diong? We’re saying you lived your life, goodbye.”

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