Category Archives: Seniors

Senior Centers Come, Senior Centers Go

Posted by Nashla Salas and Doug Turetsky, December 8, 2011

You may soon need a scorecard to keep track of many of the city’s senior centers. Against a backdrop of limited funding, the city has closed some senior centers and curtailed services and changed the status of others, yet also launched an initiative to create new senior centers.

In October, the Mayor announced that community-based organizations were selected to create eight new senior centers as part of his “Age-Friendly NYC” initiative. But less than two years ago, the Mayor was proposing to close 51 senior centers across the city.

The plan to close the more than four dozen centers was one of the most controversial parts of the Mayor’s budget plan in the spring of 2010. In the end, 27 centers were shuttered and 24 were spared. The Department for the Aging closed the centers based on criteria such as the number of meals served, the center’s level of use, and the quality of recordkeeping by the center’s operator.

Not long ago there were more than 300 centers in the city’s official network of senior services. Now there are 256—a count that doesn’t include some of the centers that were spared in 2010.

Of the 24 senior centers that were not closed under the Mayor’s proposal, the Bloomberg Administration agreed to maintain city funding for seven. The City Council agreed to provide $1.6 million to keep the other 17 centers open. The funds took a while to reach the centers, long enough that one, Glenridge—located in Ridgewood, Queens—closed its doors. The funding for Glenridge was subsequently redirected by the Council to 12 different agencies serving seniors.

The Council has again provided $1.6 million in the current fiscal year for the 17 centers, including $130,000 for Glenridge. But the building Glenridge had operated in has been sold with no immediate plan for the senior center to be allowed to reopen there. The president of the senior center’s board told the Times Newsweekly last month that Glenridge is “in the process of dissolving completely.” IBO assumes the Glenridge funds will again be reallocated by the Council. Other City Council allocations for the 17 centers range from $20,000 for the Wilson M. Morris Senior Center in West Harlem to $185,000 for the Rain Bailey Avenue Senior Center in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx.

Despite the public funds, the 17 centers were cut loose from operating under the aegis of the Department for the Aging. The department does not consider the 17 as part of the city’s network of senior centers, which makes them ineligible for city funds to support transportation and food, two prime services for seniors.

While these centers have been orphaned from the city’s official network of senior centers, the Bloomberg Administration is moving ahead with its plan to create eight new centers under its Age-Friendly NYC initiative. Eight organizations were selected to operate what are being called Innovative Senior Centers. Among them, Bronxworks will run a center that includes a community garden, SNAP in Queens will provide vegetarian meals, and SAGE will offer services to the city’s LGBT seniors. The centers, which are expected to open in January, will receive a total of $3.5 million in city funding for their first year of operation; these city funds will be supplemented by philanthropic support. The Bloomberg Administration intends to announce the creation of more centers under the initiative in the coming months.

The funds are being found for these new centers even as the Mayor’s budget plan for next year includes a $23.5 million, or 17 percent, reduction in city funding for the Department for the Aging. Last June, the Council restored $14 million that the Bloomberg Administration had proposed cutting in basic support for the operations of the senior centers that remain in the city network, along with another $3.5 million for transportation and food.

Although the new innovation centers are likely to be spared from the city’s budget pressures, other senior centers could find themselves “aging out” of the network.

Mapping Senior Centers That May Be Closed: For 15, No Other Centers Within a Mile

Posted by Nashla Rivas Salas, March 24, 2011

The Governor’s Executive Budget proposes a change in the use of federal funds that could result in the closure of 105 senior centers administered by the city’s Department for the Aging (DFTA). This change would affect approximately 8,000-10,000 seniors citywide, leaving them in some cases with no other center nearby.

IBO mapped how far each of the senior centers at risk of being closed is from the nearest center remaining open. Fifteen of the 105 senior centers have no other center within a mile radius. Eight of these fifteen are located in Queens, two in Brooklyn, two in the Bronx and three in Staten Island. A list of the centers is available here.

The Governor’s budget proposes to eliminate the discretionary portion of the Social Services Block Grant (Title XX), and instead require that the entire block grant be spent for child welfare services. The city has traditionally used its annual discretionary Title XX allocation of $24 million to fund a significant number of its senior centers. Unless other funding is allocated to make up its portion of the block grant, DFTA has said it will be forced to close centers. In deciding which centers would close if the state plan is implemented, city officials have said that they chose to spread the cuts as equally as possible across community districts. But senior centers are not spread evenly across the city and some communities have multiple centers. As a result, those districts with more centers were more likely to have centers selected for closing.

Currently the city contracts with 256 senior centers. If the state budget is approved next month with the elimination of the discretionary portion of Title XX, the city will be left with about 150 centers, a significant reduction in services to a vulnerable population.

Double Fault: Will Mayor’s Plan to Hike City Rec Center, Tennis Court, & Ball Field Fees Undermine His Efforts to Promote Healthy Living?

Posted by Yevgeniya Bukshpun, December 7, 2010

Despite its highly publicized goal of promoting a healthy lifestyle among city residents, the Bloomberg Administration announced plans to double the membership fees at the city’s recreational centers and increase the costs for tennis and ball field permits as part of its latest budget plan. The result may be that a signature policy, whose long-term goal is to improve the health of New Yorkers, may be undermined by a shorter-term goal of balancing the budget.

Children and youth would still be admitted to recreation centers for free, while adults would have to pay $150 per year for centers with pools, up from $75, and pay $100 for centers without pools, up from $50. Membership fees for senior citizens, who currently pay $10 per year, would increase to $25.

Seasonal tennis permits for adults would also double, from $100 to $200, while single play permits would rise from $7 to $15. Permits for ball field use would also increase: fees for fields without lights would rise from $16 to $25 and those for lighted fields would rise from $32 to $50.

The recent history of the city’s recreational centers reflects a persistent tension between recovering costs for services and a broader goal of providing equitable access to recreational opportunities for all city residents. Prior to 2002, all of the city’s recreational centers were free of charge but welcomed user donations. Faced with the economic crisis after the Sept. 11 attacks, the city instituted mandatory fees at all but six recreational centers that were funded by federal grant money. In July 2006, the parks department began charging fees at all recreational facilities.

This next round of fee hikes comes at a time when many New Yorkers rely on these recreational centers and facilities as an affordable alternative to more expensive private clubs. In 2010, 174,000 New Yorkers were members of the city’s recreational centers. Membership among seniors and children has been increasing each year since 2006. Kids make up 36 percent of center users, while about 20 percent of members are seniors. Adults, at nearly half the total membership, represent the largest share of those who use recreational centers. Yet adults may have been the most sensitive to fee increases as adult membership declined by 38 percent after the expansion of mandatory fees in fiscal year 2007 and took two years to rebound. Since 2007, overall membership at the city’s recreational centers has trended upward.

While the 2007 drop in membership may have been caused by more than just the fee hike, given the continued high level of unemployment in the city it is likely that membership will decrease as a result of the fee increases. Access to public recreational facilities contributes to overall public health and the fee increase may seriously undercut access in low-income communities that are likely to be especially sensitive to price increases. Low-income communities experience higher rates of obesity and diabetes, with 7 in 10 residents overweight or obese, compared with the citywide average of 6 in 10 residents.

As the number of adult and senior citizen members increased over the past few years, revenue from recreation center membership fees reached $4.8 million in fiscal year 2010. Assuming a 5 percent decline in membership, the parks department expects the higher membership fees to increase city revenue by $1 million in the current fiscal year and by $4 million each year starting in 2012, bringing the total membership revenue to $5.8 million in 2011 and $8.8 million in 2012. In 2010, revenue covered less than one-quarter of the $21.5 million the city spent operating the centers. If fees are raised as proposed and the department’s forecast of modest declines in membership proves correct, membership revenue would still cover less than half the cost of operating the centers.

The likelihood of significant new revenue from a fee increase on the sale of tennis permits is less certain. In fiscal year 2010, the city issued 12,800 permits to use tennis courts, which generated $1.8 million of revenue. Officials project the same 5 percent decline in tennis permits as in recreation center memberships as a result of the increase in fees. If so, sales of tennis permits would bring in $1.2 million of additional funds in 2011 and total $3.0 million. In 2012 through 2014 the parks department expects the higher priced permits to score $3.4 million in annual revenue.

But these revenue projections may be too optimistic given the behavioral change seen a few years ago. IBO’s previous research found that doubling the cost of adult season tennis court passes in 2003—from $50 to $100—led to a 40 percent drop in sales volume, as players switched to single-play passes. Sales of single-play passes, the price for which remained unchanged at $5 until 2005—increased, yet total revenues rose only marginally from $1.2 million in 2002, prior to the fee increase, to $1.4 million in 2005 following both fee increases.

Whether the city is able to generate the additional revenues it projects will depend on how city residents react to a 100 percent increase in recreation center membership fees and tennis permits and a nearly 60 percent increase in ball field permits at a time when many New Yorkers are still struggling to recover from the economic downturn. Residents may seek out less expensive ways to stay physically fit or stay home altogether and undermine the Mayor’s efforts to keep them healthy.

For Some Seniors, the Closest Senior Center Will Be at Least a Mile Away

Posted by Nashla Salas, August 25, 2010

When the city’s budget for the new fiscal year was passed in June, the Bloomberg Administration and the City Council added enough funding to reduce the number of senior centers planned for closing by the Mayor from 51 to 27. To decide which centers to close, the Bloomberg Administration used criteria including how many meals are served at the center, the center’s level of use, and the quality of record keeping by the center’s operator. After the closings some seniors will still have centers nearby while others may find the closest center is a considerable distance away.

The city contracts with operators of over 300 centers to provide services to seniors age 60 and over, although as shown in this map there are some mismatches between concentrations of seniors and the location of centers. Harlem and East Harlem (Community Districts 10 and 11 in Manhattan) have fewer seniors in residence compared with many other community districts but have a higher concentration of senior centers than neighborhoods such as Laurelton and Floral Park (Community District 13 in Queens) with significantly more seniors but just a few senior centers.

Currently, Queens and Brooklyn each have 30 percent of the senior population, Manhattan comes in third with 20 percent, Bronx has 14 percent and Staten Island has 6 percent. The share of seniors in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island is roughly in line with their shares of the overall population, while Queens’ share of seniors is higher than its share of total population and the Bronx’s share is lower.

Likewise, seniors are not evenly dispersed throughout each borough. For example, the largest concentrations of seniors in Brooklyn are in the southern portion of the borough, in neighborhoods such as Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Sheepshead Bay, and Canarsie (Community Districts 11, 13, 15, and 18). In Queens there are neighborhoods with large numbers of seniors across the borough, including Astoria (Community District 1) in the northeast part of the borough, Ridgewood/ Maspeth (Community District 5) in the center of the borough, Whitestone (Community District 7) in north central Queens, and Laurelton and Floral Park in southeast Queens.

The borough-by-borough breakdown of the 27 centers still slated for closure looks like this: Bronx 2, Brooklyn 5, Manhattan 8, Queens 9, and Staten Island 3. Two of the centers slated for closing are in community districts with some of the highest concentrations of seniors: Community District 1 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and in Whitestone. Although there are a number of other centers in close proximity to the center closing on the Lower East Side, there is no senior center near the one closing in Whitestone.

IBO mapped how far each of the senior centers being closed is from the nearest center remaining open. Ten of the 27 senior centers have no other center within a half mile radius and five have no other center within a mile. Three of these five—including the center in Whitestone—are located in Queens and two are in Staten Island. The Bloomberg Administration has indicated that they will provide funds to transport seniors affected by the closings to alternative facilities, but more specific information is not yet available.

UPDATE, September 9, 2010: The 27 senior centers that closed were among 46 for which contracts were allowed to expire on June 30, according to Director of Public Affairs Chris Miller of the Department for the Aging. The City Council is providing funding to help keep 17 of those centers with expired contracts open and the Bloomberg Administration agreed to provide funding for an additional seven. The City Council funding will not cover the assistance for food and transportation for seniors that was part of their prior contracts. The Department for the Aging will not consider the 17 Council funded centers as part of the city’s network of contracted senior centers. There is no money allocated for the 17 centers next year, and it will be up to the City Council (or other sources) to provide funding if they are to remain open in 2012.

Program Changes Become Roadblocks to Meals and Other Senior Services

Posted by Nashla Salas, November 19, 2009

When the Bloomberg Administration started reorganizing services for older adults about a year and half ago, it began with two fundamental programs funded by the Department for the Aging: case management and home-delivered meals. The agency realigned its case management system for evaluating and coordinating services for seniors, which resulted in a new route for how the city’s seniors apply for home-delivered meals and other services.

But seniors soon encountered speed bumps along the new route as they sought to receive meals. Rather than having more choices as designers of the new system promised in terms of meals, including frozen meals and frequency of delivery, seniors faced delays.

Under the new plan, seniors could no longer just contact a local senior services agency that provides home-delivered meals and apply for their assistance. The coordination of all in-home senior services is now centralized under a new case management system. While there were case managers before, neighborhood senior centers also often provided service coordination.

The old case management system served approximately 14,000 clients. The new system, which carved the city into 23 service areas with organizations contracted to evaluate needs and coordinate services for seniors, was expected to add about 4,000 new clients during a transition period from April 2008 to June 2008.

But seniors taking the new case management route to home-delivered meals and other services soon encountered roadblocks: many of the new case managers had more cases then they could handle, especially in some service areas. Depending upon the area, case managers were handling caseloads ranging anywhere from 47 clients to 106 clients.

The unexpectedly high caseloads meant that efforts to complete client needs evaluations fell behind schedule. Since seniors needed to complete a caseworker evaluation before they could get home delivered meals, the backlog among some casework providers prevented some clients from receiving meals and other services.

Recognizing the problem, Department for the Aging Commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli told the City Council in late September that in an effort to reduce backlogs and caseload ratios by enabling providers to hire additional staff, start-up funding was extended past the original transition period and the provider contracts for the service areas were modified based on community need. As a result of the contract changes, five providers had their funding increase, two had a decrease, and the maximum number of clients served by any case manager fell to 88.

So seniors would not be forced to wait for long periods before receiving their meals, the Department for the Aging also temporarily waived requirements that caseworkers complete their evaluations before services could begin. Providers of home-delivered meals could start bringing meals to seniors based on the presumption that they qualify. Seniors are then referred to a case management program within 120 days so eligibility can be confirmed and the need for any other services assessed.

The initiative to overhaul the case management and home-delivered meals programs arose from projections of an increasing senior population. Demographers project that New Yorkers 60 and over will make up one fifth of the city’s population by 2030, outnumbering school-aged children. To ensure the city has the capacity to meet the needs of this increasing population, the Mayor began an overhaul of the Department for the Aging’s case management, home-delivered meal, and senior center programs.

The plan to turn senior centers into “Healthy Aging Centers” and address Bloomberg Administration concerns that roughly 40 percent of the city’s more than 320 centers are underused provoked the most controversy and was put on hold. Given the difficult introduction of the changes to case management and home-delivered meals, the plan for senior centers may remain on hold a while longer.

About Those Services You Prioritized

Posted by Doug Turetsky, March 19, 2009

Each year, as part of the city’s budget process, the 59 community boards are asked to rank the most important services in their districts. For fiscal year 2010, community boards could rank the importance of 90 services provided by 24 public agencies. The services to rank ranged from sidewalk repair to child care to trash collection. The community board priorities are then published in a little-known report called the “Community Board Service Program Rankings.”

So what are the most important services to the 48 community boards that participated in this year’s report? Topping the list is “services for the elderly”—up from sixth last year. Number two is “parks maintenance,” which was also second last year. Third is “after school/summer school programs” and fourth “youth development services,” which frequently overlap with after-school related activities. After-school and youth development services were tied for third last year.

The report also identified the priorities by borough. Services for the elderly are among the top three priorities for each of the boroughs except Staten Island, where it ranked 12th. Parks maintenance is among the top four priorities in each of the boroughs except Manhattan, where it ranked eighth. The ranking of after school and youth development services are more of a mix among the boroughs, though youth development is tops in Brooklyn and after school is number one in the Bronx and second in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

How did these top priorities fare in the Mayor’s Preliminary Budget for the upcoming fiscal year? Well, funding for senior centers is facing a $5.3 million cut, making the total budget for the centers $86.5 million next year. It is not clear yet how services will be affected, whether senior centers will have to reduce the number of people served or eliminate programs.

The parks department budget includes a proposed reduction in spending on maintenance and operations, which would drop from $244.1 million this year to $222.5 million in fiscal year 2010. About 90 percent of the parks department’s maintenance and operations budget goes to taking care of neighborhood parks.

After-school programs are also facing the budget ax. The budget plan includes the elimination of 91 Out-of-School Time programs serving 10,750 kids to save $6.1 million. Because of this and other budgetary changes, the number of youth served by Out-of-School Time programs is expected to drop from roughly 80,000 last school year to 56,000 in the upcoming year.

Senior services, parks maintenance, and youth programs have long been a City Council priority, with proposed cuts restored—sometimes with additional funds—when the budget is adopted. But given the city’s fiscal turmoil and the level of budget cuts in many other programs, there’s no guarantee for the year ahead.