If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s what Councilmen James Vacca and G. Oliver Koppell are telling the Mayor’s office.
Council District 11’s Koppell and District 13’s Vacca oppose a plan to centralize and allocate senior center funds by way of a Request for Proposals released November 3.
“What it’s doing is throwing our senior centers up in the air,” Vacca said. “And where they’ll land, no one knows.”
The $117 million Department for the Aging plan, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced in January, hinges on two catch words: modernization and wellness.
Scheduled to take affect next July, it calls for the construction of 30 to 50 new mega-centers citywide, geared towards healthy living and cultural enrichment. It de-emphasizes meals.
The new centers may offer exercise classes, disease prevention programs, computer and cooking classes, discussion groups and volunteer opportunities.
“By 2030, the city projects that over 1.8 million older adults will be living in New York City,” a DFTA spokesman said. “Not only is New York City’s aging population increasing, it is also becoming more diverse. Modernization will make services more responsive, flexible and attentive to the needs of seniors.”
DFTA currently operates 329 senior centers; for some of those, the plan spells closure and/or consolidation. Vacca would rather modernize the city’s senior centers one by one.
“In this time of fiscal distress,” Koppell said. “We shouldn’t upset the apple cart. We should preserve what we have.”
DFTA’s new scheme looks great on paper. The promised $117 million RFP is substantially more than last year’s $94 million baseline allocation.
But senior centers rely on discretionary DFTA funds allocated by borough presidents and council members – funds that Bloomberg’s plan transfers to the RFP.
“The funding stream presented by the Department for the Aging has more holes in it than Swiss cheese,” Vacca said. “We’re simply robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Both Vacca and Koppel praised the borough’s senior centers. On Monday, November 17, representatives from a number of those centers gathered at Koppell’s Riverdale office.
“My biggest concern is the discretionary funding,” Moshulu Montefiore Senior Center’s Bayla Lovens said. “If we lose that, we lose the ability to offer 20 activities a week and we lose the ability to hold holiday celebrations.”
In theory, Moshulu Montefiore could profit under the new plan. But Lovens and other representatives warned against the RFP’s competitive implications.
“One day we’re collaborating,” Nicole Tambini, director of the Parkside Senior Center, said. “The next we’re rivals for funds.”
Proponents of Bloomberg’s plan have cited senior center under-use. But, according to Vacca, the centers are evaluated based on lunch attendance alone.
“We have many seniors who no longer go just for lunch,” Vacca said. “They go for trips and to socialize.
“I took the Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs to the Bronx House – supposedly under-used. They had a swimming pool for exercise and a Holocaust support group that day.”
Senior center representatives commended the city’s push to modernize services. They asked for support and more time.
“Our seniors won’t walk 10 blocks [to a mega-center],” Tambini said. “We serve three meals a day. Where will they eat if we close?”
Christine Quinn, the Council’s speaker, opposes the RFP as well. The city can’t afford to add mega-centers without closing neighborhood centers, Quinn said. If the plan takes affect, 85 neighborhood centers will close.
She, Vacca, Koppell and Council Aging Committee chair Maria del Carmen Arroyo hope to repeal Bloomberg’s RPF.
“It’s not too late for people of good intention to step back and realize this could be very negative for our city,” Vacca said.