Senior Spotlight By John Toscano
The controversial plan by the city's Department for the Aging which proposes changes in home meal delivery and senior center operations would be stopped dead in its tracks under a bill passed by the Democrat-controlled Assembly in the waning hours of the legislative session last week.
However, the Republican-led state senate had previously passed a different bill addressing senior services in New York City, so neither bill appears to have a chance of becoming law unless the two houses pass a compromise bill, which appears highly unlikely since the legislature ended its 2008 session last Wednesday.
At the moment, the DFTA-proposed reform program backed by the Bloomberg mayoral administration is still alive.
However, the City Council, according to Councilmember James Gennaro (D- Fresh Meadows), is "fully engaged in active discussion with the mayor's office on this matter and has already won a number of delays that could avert a crisis for seniors."
Last year, Gennaro said, he had sponsored a $1.5 million budget amendment that saved the City Meals-On-Wheels program from extinction. Under that program, homebound and other seniors get a warm, freshly cooked meal delivered to their homes every day of the week. Other meals are delivered to be kept refrigerated, then warmed up for a Sunday meal.
Under the DFTA's proposed changes, homedelivered meals could be mostly or all frozen, to be defrosted and eaten by the homebound seniors. The DFTA has received variations of fresh or frozen delivered meals, but has not made a final decision as to whether the present system in practice for many years will be changed.
The DFTA also has put out a similar Request for Proposal (RFP) seeking plan submissions to possibly change how senior centers are operated. According to reports on the DFTA's future aims, some local centers could be closed and some centralization of present centers could occur.
Under the Assembly bill passed last week, according to Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer (D- Rockaways), the DFTA plan would be scrapped and an analysis of senior services' consolidations of home-delivered meals and senior center operations would be undertaken before any new contracts could be entered into by the DFTA.
The Assembly bill calls on DFTA to analyze the way in which consolidation has taken place to this point and forces them to adjust their methods of consolidation to be more responsive to the community, Pheffer said in a release.
Pheffer also stated, "The mayor's plan to 'modernize' senior centers and 'restructure' the Meals-On-Wheels program was really a plan that dismantled a system that successfully serves thousands of seniors in New York City. It is an ill-conceived plan that must be stopped."
The mayor's plan, when announced earlier this year, was put forward as changes dictated by seniors' living longer and more future retirees entering the senior ranks, thus creating new problems on how to serve the appreciably increased senior population.
The senate bill passed to deal with the DFTA plan called for more oversight of local county senior services programs by the State Office for the Aged (SOFA) and assurances that seniors and senior advocate groups' input was being solicited and considered. It was sponsored by state Senator Serphin Maltese (R- C, Middle Village) and cosponsored by Senator Frank Padavan (R- C, Bellerose).