I have serious concerns about the proposed changes by the NYC Department for the Aging. These changes will adversely affect our neighborhood senior centers and the Meals on Wheels delivery system. We are here today to ask DFTA to suspend this plan until a more comprehensive approach to restructuring is created.
My Assembly district is home to a wonderful network of senior centers that provide a diverse range of services to our aging population, ranging from English as a Second Language classes to computer classes, and from a mobile post office unit to health and wellness programs. DFTA’s plan to regionalize senior centers is particularly alarming because it would force senior centers to compete for funding. If senior centers are forced to cut back the range of services they offer, it is likely that fewer seniors would be able to access these diverse services. Furthermore, DFTA stated that some senior centers may even be closed under this regionalization plan. That is unacceptable because senior centers are supposed to be local. Requiring seniors, some of whom are unable to take public transportation, to travel significant distances will mean that many will just stay home. Senior centers provide an immeasurable social benefit to seniors and closing some to save a few dollars is morally wrong.
I also have serious reservations about the proposed timeline for an upcoming Request for Proposals (RFP) process for senior centers. Requiring all senior centers to submit RFPs simultaneously is an overwhelming task for both the senior center staff and DFTA. Flexibility of the timeline and design of services is needed to allow senior centers to continue effectively serving the needs of Brooklyn seniors. Allowing ample time for this process will prevent any seniors from falling through the cracks.
It is also crucial that DFTA consider the needs of many homebound seniors who rely on the MOW program. DFTA has suggested in its restructuring plan that the number of contracts for the MOW program be reduced from 97 to 10-20. I have many concerns about the implications of this change. First, it is critical that DFTA assures us that no senior will be placed on a waiting list as a result of these changes. In addition, DFTA’s mandate that a certain proportion of meals be delivered frozen, once a week, instead of delivering a hot meal everyday is troubling. While many recipients of the MOW program are technically capable of heating up a frozen meal, there are countless benefits to daily delivery of a hot meal to a homebound senior. Finally, DFTA has proposed that only one caterer per borough prepare meals for the program which would not allow for food to fit a variety of religious, dietary and ethnic backgrounds.
There are times when human needs must be put before financial needs. This is one of those times.