2017-11-01 / Front Page

Department For The Aging Holds Public Hearing

By Thomas Cogan

In mid- to late October, the Department for the Aging conducted public hearings in all the boroughs, the Queens meeting being the last of them.  It was held Tuesday, October 24 at Sunnyside Community Services on 39th Street between 43rd Avenue and Queens Boulevard.  This was in keeping with DFTA’s annual obligation to conduct public hearings to solicit recommendations for and comments about its Annual Plan Summary (APS), in this case the one for the year-long period April 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019.  Speakers wanting to address the gathering at SCS were instructed to sign in and when they were done, speakers in the audience could raise hands and be called upon.

SCS Executive Director Judy Zangwill opened the meeting, hailing the DFTA for doing excellent work.  At SCS, nearly 900 meals were served last year, she said.  Departmental Commissioner Donna M. Corrado, author of the Annual Plan Summary, said that a lot of money and support has come the department’s way from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who also has raised eligibility levels for what the APS calls “multiple income supports,” such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps), the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) or Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE).  “As long as you’re a senior in this city,” she said, “we’re going to take care of you.”

The signed-up speakers followed.  Some praised the available services, one of them saying that more than 55,000 each day take advantage of them.  She called them “a dedicated investment in your well-being.”  But she was followed by a speaker who said that despite those services, senior poverty is on the increase in the city.  She lamented that SNAP, forever burdened by the better-known term, “food stamps,” is avoided by many self-conscious seniors who are reluctant to apply.  She said that in her social work she is good at persuading seniors to overcome their unwillingness and apply for this service, which will help them out.  An SCS representative enumerated some of its benefits, including a “robust” case management program for in-house and homebound seniors.

A speaker named Leora Esterson said she has read the APS and noted the DFTA’s desire to expand centers and services.  She said she has worked in centers where the service was inferior and where people would come in perhaps twice a week in search of help that was available elsewhere and much better there.  She called herself dedicated to getting the word out to the elderly to seek better services, which are available and might be nearby.  A young man followed to say that many seniors of Asian and other ethnicities might be going neglected right now, and finding where they are apprising them of services is imperative.

Ian Magerkurth, Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy for the Alzheimer’s Association, stated that there are more than 390,000 individuals currently living with Alzheimer's and other dementias in New York State, and that number continues to grow. The Association has master’s-level clinicians available through a 24/7 multi-lingual Helpline 800.272.3900 and provides free in-person and online programs for caregivers, professionals, and the public on how to recognize early warning signs of Alzheimer's, benefits of an early diagnosis, and other free support programs for all those affected. The Alzheimer’s Association complements the Department For The Aging’s work in crisis counseling and supports increased funding for DFTA, and for more comprehensive services that aging New Yorkers so urgently need.  Later, a woman speaking from the audience said there should be Alzheimer’s educational information for very young people who might be distressed and saddened that their grandparents and other older persons who were once affectionate to them now don’t show them recognition.  She said it should be taught in schools at the primary and secondary level.

Another speaker, Gail Brown, said the huge financial deficit distressing the New York City Housing Authority has senior NYCHA residents distressed too, and wondering if they are going to be evicted.  A DFTA representative said the NYCHA crisis is overstated, which was a reply to Brown’s additional worry that private interests are looking to build on NYCHA land, which the city could sell them as a way of alleviating the authority’s financial situation.  She said that one of the suggested private structures actually is concerned with services for senior residents.  Brown held to her belief that private building on NYCHA land is troubling.

A woman arose to speak about SCRIE and also about a friend of hers who is currently fighting eviction.  She asked what her friend might do and was told the friend should begin by calling 311, explaining her or his personal situation and getting information about SCRIE.  The APS explains that “SCRIE assists adults age 62 and older who reside in rent regulated apartments by authorizing exemptions from future increases to their monthly rent.  In 2014, the household income eligibility limit for SCRIE was increased from $29,000 to $50,000, making it possible for more seniors to keep their rents affordable.”  About 6,500 have been enrolled in the SCRIE program since then.

Among the closing speakers was Darnley Jones, one of DFTA’s coordinators in Queens.  He spoke of the NYC Hurricane Service Center in East Harlem, located at 1680 Lexington Avenue, entering on East 106th Street.  Those directly or indirectly affected by the hurricanes in Puerto Rico or elsewhere can inquire into a range of services provided there.  Contact is made through 311.


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