Singtao Chinese Daily
April 16, 2003
The Committee on the Elderly of the City Council held a public
hearing yesterday (15th) regarding the cancellation of English and
citizenship classes at senior centers throughout the city due to
budget cuts at the Department of the Aging. A number of Chinese
social service organizations sent representatives to the meeting
to express their dismay at the gradual termination of such instruction,
a process that began in January. They emphasize the needs of many
elderly who have been relying on these classes to prepare for citizenship
Qian Guoqing, an English instructor at the Qiyinghui Senior Center
in Chinatown, was one of those who addressed the committee. He has
been teaching English at the center for nearly three years, and
has seen forty seven of his elderly pupils successfully obtain their
American citizenship. He said that many of the older Chinese immigrants
did not even have the chance to study English when they first arrived
in the United States, and for them the classes offered at the center
were a much appreciated opportunity.
He added that aside from their inability to pay for courses at
regular language schools themselves, the elderly were also unsuited
for the level of instruction at such institutions. With age comes
a weakened memory; it is quite impossible to grasp a basic knowledge
of English, an entirely new tongue, in the mere 20 weeks that most
of these outside classes last. They require unhurried, constant
reinforcement in order to attain understanding.
Ma Guozhu, an 80-year-old immigrant at the center, has been in
this country for nearly 30 years. He said that one of his remaining
wishes now that he is in his old age is to finally become a U.S.
citizen; the classes at the center will help him realize this dream.
The Brooklyn Chinese Council, the Renrui Center in Chinatown, the
city Department of the Aging and the Manhattan Borough President
also sent representatives to the hearing to speak up. Deputy Director
of the Department of the Aging, Sally Renfro, mentioned that since
1996, when reform at the Federal level barred non-citizens from
receiving public assistance and food stamps, the City Council has
been allocating local funds towards the English and citizenship
classes at some of the citys senior centers.
Under this plan, 38 centers continued to provide instruction to
encourage the elderly to learn English, obtain some degree of independence
and perhaps citizenship as well. In 2000, the department set aside
$500,000 for these classes, but in 2001, the City Council cut that
amount in half; last year, funding was completely cancelled.
Renfro said that her department recognizes the importance of the
programs to the elderly, but pointed out that starting in 1997,
Congress revived some social welfare benefits for non-citizens,
and in 1998, food stamps for non-citizens. The Department of the
Aging is subject to city finances, but will try its best to keep
the classes through alternative approaches, one of which involves
the United Federation of Teachers sending out retired teachers to
provide afternoon English instruction.
Brooklyn Chinese Council Assistant Director He Jinxuan remarked
that the English classes his organization provides already lost
city funding in January, but for the benefit of the elderly, it
used its own money to continue providing them. The city also began
a study in March, and indicated that it might divert resources from
the Department of Youth Services, but as of yet there have been
no additional developments. She said that even if classes were to
be provided in the afternoons, it would inconvenience the many seniors
who spend that time at home looking after grandchildren, and many
others who would be unable to concentrate so late in the day.
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