2008-06-25 / Seniors

Senior Spotlight By John Toscano

Maltese's Bill To Protect Senior Assistance Programs Passes

Expressing concern for seniors from New York City and how they might be affected by a controversial Bloomberg administration plan to improve seniors' services, Queens' two Republican state senators have sponsored legislation that would protect those programs in the city and throughout the state and ensure proper community input on any planned changes to present services, such as Meals-On-Wheels, that millions of seniors depend upon.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Serphin Maltese and co-sponsored by Senator Frank Padavan, comes in response to proposed changes to senior citizen service programs in the city that have caused concern over the possibility that seniors in the Meals-On-Wheels program would receive frozen rather than hot meals.

Both Maltese (Middle Village) and Padavan (Bellerose) sharply criticized the City Council's role in responding to the controversial plan.

"The city council failed because they have turned a deaf ear to the concerns of seniors who are worried about how the changes in city service will impact their quality of life," Maltese stated. "My legislation will ensure that seniors and their families will have a say on any proposed service changes before they can go forward."

Padavan's charges were even more harsh. He stated, "It was the extreme ineptitude of the city council, coupled with their lack of action, that forced the state legislature to step in and protect New York City senior citizens.

"The fact that the city council could not deal with their own local problems when it came to changes in service delivery for the elderly is unconscionable. We will be there for our seniors. However, the city council members should accept responsibility for their lack of action which precipitated a crisis for New York City's seniors."

A copy of Padavan's legislation was sent to Council Speaker Christine Quinn's public information officer, who has not responded to this reporter. No release from Maltese has as yet been received.

Both Maltese and Padavan are expected to be challenged for re-election in November, Padavan by Councilmember James Gennaro (D- Fresh Meadows) and Maltese by Councilmember Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D- Ozone Park).

The proposal Maltese and Padavan complained about was announced by Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs and city Department for the Aging (DFTA) Commissioner Edwin Mendez- Santiago earlier this year. It was supported by Quinn, among others.

In an April 9 release from DFTA announcing a delay in a Request for Proposal (RFP) dealing with proposed changes for senior centers, Quinn was quoted as saying: "We look forward to working with DFTA service providers and stakeholders to ensure that changes are implemented in such a way that no one loses services they depend on."

Several members of the council, including Councilmember Leroy Comrie (D- Jamaica) have spoken out on certain phases of the proposed plan, some at a public hearing held by a council committee. Comrie said he felt that the DFTA was moving too rapidly to win approval of the plan.

Apprised of the legislation being pushed by Maltese and Padavan, a spokesman for DFTA said seniors and senior advocate organizations have had opportunities to comment on the proposals.

As of this moment, the DFTA spokesperson said, responses to the RFP for home delivered meals were returned in May. He said no senior would be negatively impacted by them.

According to the DFTA spokesman, the proposed changes are designed to "prepare for the growing and diverse needs of tomorrow's seniors. Enhancements made to services provided for seniors will result in more seniors being served, providing more options without a loss of services to seniors. The city will continue to work daily with providers to answer questions, resolve concerns and ensure transparency in its efforts to provide enhanced services for seniors".

Under Maltese's legislation passed by the senate, any change or amendment to the plans submitted to the director of the State Office for the Aging (SOFA) must include:

• A detailed description and analysis of how many seniors would be impacted by the change.

• Annual and long-term demographic projections of how many seniors would be served by the change.

• Financial sustainability of the amendment.

• Information related to potential diminishment of services as a result of the amendments or changes

• Cost comparisons between current and changed programs.

Padavan stated, "This legislation sets forth a very detailed and comprehensive oversight mechanism when it comes to county-related services for seniors, not only in New York City but throughout the state. Through increased public input, this legislation empowers and strengthens the voice of seniors and will help protect and update senior services throughout the five boroughs and our state."

Once the amendment is submitted, the director of SOFA must take any comment and input from all stakeholders, providers and seniors into account during the review process. The director of SOFA must approve or disapprove the change or amendment.

Finally, the legislation requires that the county agency comply with the provisions of the approved plans and with the results of state hearings or review unless the amendment plan is approved by SOFA.

Maltese's bill now goes to the Assembly for consideration. If it is passed there and signed into law by the governor, it would take effect immediately.

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