The proposed closures of over 100 senior centers if the $25 million in state funding is not restored to the budget before it’s approved will never be forgiven by coming generations, even in these dire economic times.
Moreover, it contravenes the Older Americans Act (OAA) Congress passed in 1965 in response to universal concerns about a lack of community social services for older persons, and flies in the face of good conscience.
The cuts to senior centers would be particularly difficult since the city already closed the ones that would have the least impact last year. A new round of cuts would be out of the heavily used senior centers because those are the only ones left. We would be squeezing the life blood out of our seniors, an unpardonable sin.
Senior centers serve more than 7,000 seniors a day, with the average age of the patrons being 77. With more than half of the senior population living in poverty, these cuts would be detrimental to seniors living in New York City as these senior centers are a lifeline in this depressing economy.
Their activities, which include movies, nutritious foods, counseling, companionship, blood pressure screenings, AARP, tax assistance, computer and exercise classes, confirm this. Most distressing, these closings will disproportionately affect our city's poorest elders, who are the most vulnerable to social isolation.
In the New York City's Department for the Aging (DFTA)’s report on senior centers, researchers found that over 50 percent of people who use city senior centers went every day, and another 29 percent went 3 to 4 times a week, revealing the extent to which people rely on these institutions as their support network.
And while the city did justice to homebound seniors and decided not to cut Meals on Wheels deliveries, the loss of these centers will end up punishing their slightly more able-bodied counterparts, who also face higher rates of depression, suicide, and social isolation due to their age. Their social support will evaporate when the centers close.
We cannot balance the budget on the backs of our seniors and children. The costs these senior centers save through preventative services like nutrition, counseling and exercise programs, greatly reduce medical costs.
We need to preserve core city services that serve the most vulnerable New Yorkers. Keep our senior centers open, the New Yorkers who visit senior centers each day have nowhere else to go.
Albert Baldeo is president of the United Communities Alliance.