Assemblywoman Nily Rozic discusses the cuts in Bayside on Thursday morning.
State elected officials across the city want to send this message to Governor Andrew Cuomo: don’t cut funding for senior centers.
Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic and State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky teamed up with seniors from the Selfhelp Clearview Senior Center in Bayside on Thursday morning to protest the budget proposal.
“Whether you come here to socialize, to eat or for recreational programs, these senior centers are vital parts of our community,” Braunstein said. “We cannot afford to see 65 senior centers close citywide.”
According to officials, Cuomo’s executive budget would take federal Title XX funding typically used for seniors and redirect it to fund child care. The $17 million cut would result in loss of funding to support more than one million seniors throughout the city, officials said.
That would force the closure of 65 senior centers, which represents 30 percent of all neighborhood senior centers. According to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the funding loss equates to 6,000 seniors losing services a day, 1.5 million meals per year, and 24,000 hours of case work assistance.
In a letter to the governor, Adams and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer urged the governor to withdraw the cuts and to fully fund both child care and resources for seniors.
“We understand the importance of both seniors and children, and are disappointed you would move to pit our youngest and oldest generations against one another,” they wrote.
Last week, State Senator Daniel Squadron toured community centers in his Brooklyn district, collecting signatures for a petition to oppose the state budget proposal. In two days, they received more than 300 signatures.
“New York’s senior centers do more than provide food and resources, they create community,” Squadron said in a statement. “Forcing centers to close or cut services would essentially leave seniors out in the cold, plain and simple.”
At the Bayside event, Braunstein said in a state budget totaling more than $150 billion, the governor can find room to keep senior centers open and fund child care subsidies. In the next few weeks, the Assembly will put out its version of the state budget priorities, which Braunstein said will restore the funding.
“When we get back to Albany, we’ll make this our first priority to make sure our senior centers stay open moving forward,” he said.
Braunstein also urged the dozens of seniors in the room to join the push.
“Everybody has to play a part. I hope you get on the phone, I hope you start writing letters,” he said. “I’m confident that with enough pressure, we’ll be able to force the governor to back off his plan.”
Stavisky said this is a battle the legislature fought five years ago, when $25 million in Title XX funding was at risk in 2011. The state restored the money.
“How did it happen? Because seniors from all over the state sent letters, as you are doing now, urging the governor to restore the money,” Stavisky said.
“Seventeen million dollars doesn’t seem like a lot,” added Rozic, “but we know how many meals that provides, how many services that provides, how many fun activities occur right here at Selfhelp and would be impacted by cuts.”
Erin Brennan, program director at Selfhelp Clearview Senior Center, said if the funding is cut, she may lose her job as well. In addition to running the senior center, she oversees SHARP, a social adult day program for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“If they cut this funding, there’s going to be thousands of seniors here that don’t have a place to go,” she said. “The other centers in this area are nowhere near close to here. Public transportation is not very accessible out here as well.”
Brennan said the center has been open for nearly three decades. Right now, they’re contracted to serve 105 meals a day, but they exceed that number daily. Between the meal program, classes and other activities, she estimated that more than 125 seniors come to the center every day.
“I’m not against child care either, I have kids of my own,” Brennan said. “But you have to think about the golden years, some of these people don’t have family.
“If they didn’t have places like senior centers to go to, their quality of life wouldn’t be as good as it is now,” she added.
Brennan, who started as a social worker 18 years ago, said she was around for the budget fight in 2011. She took her members to City Hall, Borough Hall, Flushing Town Hall and even did a letter-writing campaign.
“We took them to every rally they had and we fought,” she said.
Phyllis Steinlauf moved to the area nearly six years ago, and she volunteers at Selfhelp Clearview three times a week.
“If I didn’t have this place to go to, I don’t know what I would do,” she said. “I don’t drive and I can’t get around that easily.
“Senior centers give you a purpose to get up in the morning and have some place to go,” Steinlauf added. “When you’re a senior and you’re alone, and you have some place to go to, it gives you a better outlook on life. It keeps you going.”
Marcia Blank, 93, added that the classes allow her to learn and keep her mind sharp.
“If I didn’t have those classes, I would be lost. It made my life so different,” she said. “No matter how old you are, you can always learn.”