Gotham Gazette Sun, 12 Jul 2020 03:58:03 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) As Coronavirus Shutdown Goes On, Increasing Concern About Senior Isolation senior citizens New York

Seniors are especially vulnerable to isolation, now more than ever (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

Senior centers are closed. Visitation to nursing homes has been suspended. Social distancing orders have been broadly applied to businesses. Older people are the vast majority of those dying after contracting the virus. The COVID-19 era is marked by death, vulnerability, and isolation for older New Yorkers, with social interaction increasingly difficult to come by. The resulting isolation, already a major problem for seniors in more normal times, is of significant concern as New York City attempts to save as many people as possible from both the novel coronavirus that has already taken roughly 17,000 city residents and the worst social traumas of its fallout.

“A quick call could help an older adult in your life avoid social isolation,” reads a banner on the homepage of the New York City Department for the Aging, encouraging New Yorkers to call their older loved ones and providing a number, 212-244-6469, for the agency’s recently-launched “Aging Connect” service.

The lack of visits and social interactions can have serious repercussions for older adults. Recognizing that “Loneliness and isolation are increasingly part of the experience of growing old” because of “Reduced inter-generational living, greater social and geographical mobility, [and] the rise in one-person households,” a study of older adults from the United Kingdom showed “individuals with strong social ties have a 50% greater likelihood of survival compared with those who have poor social relationships and networks.”

The drastic COVID-19 era reductions in social interactions for older New Yorkers -- with no trips to senior centers, no visitors at nursing homes, and, if following social distancing rules, no home visits from friends or relatives -- is also putting lives at risk. And while these measures are important to public health, advocates are increasingly worried, and pushing the use of telecommunications to try and maintain connections for seniors. 

Many organizations are seeking new and innovative ways to engage older adults during this crisis and help ease the effects of social isolation.

At the Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC), a nonprofit that seeks to “promote social and economic empowerment of Chinese American, immigrant, and low-income communities,”  staff are conducting wellness checks at least once a week to socialize and check in with their older members. Staff check in more frequently with those who are living alone, helping to break the monotony and forge essential connections, according to Edgar Pereira, chief program officer at CPC.

Beyond that, CPC is introducing older adults to Chinese checkers online, hoping it will enable them to play with their friends, and links to an English class where they can continue the learning process despite the upheaval of the organization’s offerings.

“It’s been challenging, but they’ve been very creative in how they’re reaching out,” Pereira said.  

The Center for an Urban Future (CUF), a nonprofit think tank, recently released a report with a series of 40 policy recommendations compiled from various organizations aimed at helping seniors through the coronavirus crisis, including ideas from CPC and others on combating social isolation.

Ed Friedman, the executive director and co-founder of Lifetime Arts Inc, suggested drafting volunteers to call older adults on the phone to converse and to hold participatory online classes for older adults.

Through the calls, Friedman wrote, “those who live alone will feel less isolated, and if there’s a dire problem, the organization sponsoring the volunteers may be able to solve it.”

Combating social isolation by holding the participatory classes, including literary, performing, and visual arts, “will provide meaningful social engagement among participants as well as a meaningful activity that doesn’t have to focus on the epidemic,” Friedman said.

Terry Kaelber, director of the Institute for Empowered Aging at United Neighborhood Houses, a nonprofit, said in the CUF report that government at all levels must help combat social isolation among seniors, especially at this time, and should do so by providing more resources to community organizations to “access and use conference call and video streaming technologies to support virtual support groups, discussion groups, exercise, and other programming,” and “develop phone trees, where CBO staff work with older people to conduct daily check-in calls, thereby activating existing friendship and support networks,” as well as including older adults in the recovery effort, and providing updates on the status of the virus.

The city’s Department for the Again launched Aging Connect, “its in-house contact center,” in mid-February. The phone service, which is in partnership with 311 and the state service for older New Yorkers, connects the caller with an “Aging Specialist” to find “services and supports available for older adults and their caregivers, and volunteer opportunities,” according to the announcement of the service’s launch.

Older adults, their caregivers, representatives from community-based organizations, and others are encouraged to call. “[The] launch of Aging Connect will allow older New Yorkers to speak directly with an expert who has been trained to provide comprehensive solutions for the most complex situations,” said Department for the Aging Commissioner Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez in a statement. “This is yet another exciting step in our ongoing effort to adapt our services to the growing, multifaceted needs of older adults.”

The press release stressed that multilingual support is available, as well as the “capability to translate more than 240 languages over the phone through LanguageLine Solutions.” Specialists are available weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. while other days and hours New Yorkers can call 311.

Another approach being advocated to fight isolation is including older adults in the response to the pandemic. Ensuring seniors are informed and have a say in how the response and recovery impact them might help them feel more in touch with the larger society.

Kaelber, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, said that if older adults are included in the response, it could easily be stronger.

“As we think about recovery and whatever shape that looks like, we know that older people have really good ideas,” Kaelber said. “They’ve lived in their neighborhoods for a long time. They’ve been in New York in a bunch of different ways and making sure we get their input and recovery will be important and also be a good way to make sure that people are connected and not isolated as the recovery efforts start to happen. It’s important that we don’t just go to older people and say, okay, we’ve figured out what you need and there it is. But rather we do it together, we have a concerted effort with community organizations, like settlement houses, to really engage older people and let them define what it is we need. And we’re probably going to come up with a much better solution if we do that.”

Pereira also discussed ensuring seniors have accurate information. In the Chinese community, WeChat is a major venue for conversation and disseminating information. Pereira said seniors who are a part of CAPC turn to WeChat for news regarding the pandemic and its fallout. The problem is that “it’s not as accurate” as it should be, and part of CPC’s response is to “provide updates and get accurate information” to its members.

“There’s no way to really check with people, when people pull out their WeChat, but we have a sense of control and the responsibility to provide the information through the media. So it’s been very helpful, and a lot of seniors appreciate that,” Pereira said. “That’s why we teamed up with local media to say, ‘hey, listen, we want to provide accurate information versus false misinformation.’”

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

As Coronavirus Shutdown Goes On, Increasing Concern About Senior Isolation Mon, 27 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
40 Suggestions to Help Especially Vulnerable Seniors During Coronavirus Crisis: Report seniors amid coronavirus

Seniors are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 & its social effects (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

The outbreak of the deadly new coronavirus, COVID-19, throughout New York City has led to over 11,400 fatalities. One group particularly hard-hit by both the virus and its cumulative social effects has been senior citizens, older adults who often have underlying health conditions and less ability to fight off a serious infection.

Data provided by the New York City Health Department shows that more than 70% of the coronavirus-related fatalities in New York City through April 15 are among those 65 years old and older. (More than 90% of the deaths have been among people 45 years old and older.)

Seniors are also the largest growing demographic in the city: “from 2005 to 2015, the number of New Yorkers over 65 grew by 19.2 percent, which was more than double the rate of the total population,” according to a report from New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. The city, the report says, is home to “more than 1.1 million adults over 65, about 13 percent of the city’s total population.”

This older demographic is now additionally vulnerable given the coronavirus pandemic and the fact that it preys upon those with underlying conditions like cancer, chronic lung disease, and heart conditions; has led to the closure of senior centers; shown to spread quickly in nursing homes; and put intergenerational family visits on hold while increasing social isolation, food insecurity, and access to care.

With these impacts, dangers, and constraints in mind, The Center For an Urban Future (CUF), a think tank focused on equity, economic opportunity, and the social fabric, recently put out a report with 40 policy ideas that CUF and the other experts it consulted say city and state lawmakers should immediately consider.

“Supporting Older Adults Through Coronavirus: Ideas From Experts and Leaders Across NYC” offers ideas for combating social isolation, developing relevant technology, “bolstering telehealth services, mobilizing laid-off workers to increase the output and delivery of take-home meals, and developing a central information portal to communicate important updates and resources to seniors and providers.”

CUF consulted a variety of leaders from organizations that provide services to seniors, and noted that there was widespread agreement “that the city needs to provide more support to the nonprofit organizations serving older adults, by increasing flexibility and funding contracts at levels that accurately reflect the full cost of service delivery.”

To indicate the importance of addressing the needs of seniors, especially during this crisis, CUF writes that there are more than 1.7 million people in New York City who are age 60 and over, including 141,000 city residents over 85, “more than 136,000 who are homebound, and one in five who are living below the federal poverty line.”

Social Isolation
To combat social isolation exacerbated by social distancing requirements and closure of the city’s senior centers, CUF recommendations that government officials “draft volunteers to phonebanks for older adults to reduce isolation.”

The idea, submitted by Ed Friedman, the executive director and co-founder of Lifetime Arts, Inc., says each senior center or organization that serves older adults should be helped to “enlist a group of volunteers and staff to help make phone calls to every registrant, three times a week.”

The immediate goal of the proposal is to help those who live alone to feel less isolated, but if there is a more severe problem, the volunteer may be able to identify it and help.

A similar proposal submitted by Darrean Bloch, CEO of Greenwich House, suggests redeploying senior center staff and volunteers, whose facilities are now closed to congregating, socializing, and meals, to outreach.

“Groups with contracts to do this work should be formally authorized, and everyone should be provided with contact lists and other resources, and linked into a centralized database to track and facilitate outreach,” the proposal reads.

Another idea presented by Friedman is holding online classes where older adults can participate in the arts. 

“This will provide meaningful social engagement among participants as well as a meaningful activity that doesn’t have to focus on the epidemic. In addition, it’s a jumping off point for participants to expand their social network beyond these classes,” the proposal reads. “Cultural and arts education organizations can partner with organizations that serve older adults for purposes of outreach.”

Terry Kaelber, director for the Institute for Empowered Aging, United Neighborhood Houses of NY, suggests including seniors in the emergency response itself.

The policy recommendation suggests the government provide technology to engage seniors by “create[ing] virtual support groups, and send informational updates on neighborhood resources” to city seniors. To implement this idea, the proposal suggests providing resources to community organized to access video and conferencing calling services, developing phone trees where staff can complete daily check-in calls, engaging older adults in the planning of community responses to the virus, and providing valuable information to seniors about the spread of the city’s and who to contact if you are ill.

Meal Delivery 
New York City’s Department for the Aging (DFTA) oversees “230 neighborhood senior centers, 16 innovative senior centers, and 39 sites affiliated with senior centers” across the city and has 1,393 contracts with agency providers to deliver services, often meals, according to budget documents.

With those senior centers closed as part of the city’s response to the spread of COVID-19, and in combination with social distancing measures that limit visitors for seniors, meal delivery to older adults has been a key concern for many.

Several proposals presented in the CUF report suggest ways to increase and improve meal delivery in the city.

“It is critical that the city create a centralized intake process (an online portal and clear system through 3-1-1 or Aging Connect) to expedite new senior home-delivered meal requests during this time,” reads a proposal from Katelyn Andrews, director of public policy at LiveOn NY. “The system should partner with local restaurants that may be struggling under current circumstances but may have capacity to churn out hundreds of meals for at-risk neighbors (and may even have experience in delivery, too). Taxi drivers, hard-hit even before the pandemic, can also be recruited to deliver the meals, as is currently and admirably being explored by the city.”

A few recommendations suggest hiring laid-off food-service professionals to boost staffing of community kitchens or to deliver resources. The city has closed restaurants and bars for all but takeout and delivery, leaving many without work. Wayne Ho, president and CEO of the Chinese-American Planning Council, Inc, said that “there is an opportunity to support these workers while meeting the immediate needs of older adults,” such as delivering food, medicine, and personal protective equipment.

“The benefits of having senior centers serve as the focal points of meal production are two-fold: 1) Senior centers are trusted and reliable service hubs physically embedded with vulnerable neighborhoods including public housing developments. 2) Directing economic resources to communities-in-need during a time of crisis supports the immediate welfare of residents, businesses, and service providers, and creates the opportunity for longer-term interest and investment in historically underserved and under resourced neighborhoods,” the recommendation submitted by Gregory J. Morris, president and executive director of the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center, says.

One proposal presented in the report to improve meal delivery suggests giving free meal distribution to buildings (for example, NYCHA or naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs)) that house older adults with disabilities but lack built-in senior centers. The recommendation, submitted by Nancy D. Miller, the executive director and CEO of VISIONS/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, suggests that it could be done in coordination with the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities and Department for the Aging.

Another suggestion is to ensure that home-delivered meals are provided in multiple languages. “The city should ensure that instructions on how to properly prepare and store these meals are provided in the most common languages spoken by older people in New York City (Spanish, Chinese, Russian) and in legible font (at least 14 pt.) to ensure safe consumption,” reads the suggestion from Lindsay Goldman, director of healthy aging at the New York Academy of Medicine.

Other topics covered by the proposals include providing non-profit organizations with no-interest loans so they can keep up service, guaranteeing protections to human services case workers as first responders and designate shelters in each borough for homeless older adults. Read the full report here.

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

40 Suggestions to Help Especially Vulnerable Seniors During Coronavirus Crisis: Report Thu, 16 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
City Closes Hundreds of Senior Centers, But Will Provide Meals to Aging Population Especially Vulnerable to Coronavirus protect launch project

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday that all senior centers in the city will be closing in an effort to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, to vulnerable populations.

“We will be closing our senior centers, ending all programming there with the exception of activities related to food. We will turn them into feeding centers, again, focused on grab-and-go, meaning pickup of meals for those seniors for whom that works,” de Blasio said during a press conference Sunday, when he also announced the closure of city schools for at least five weeks, among other drastic measures to help contain the virus and its impacts.

“They'll all primarily be locations for preparing and delivering meals to seniors’ homes,” the mayor continued. “So instead of being a place for seniors to go to eat meals in the senior center, they'll become a dispensary to get quality meals out to seniors, whether it's by delivery or by pickup, but we will no longer have any programming in our senior centers.”

The city’s Department for the Aging (DFTA) oversees “230 neighborhood senior centers, 16 innovative senior centers, and 39 sites affiliated with senior centers” across the city and has 1,393 contracts with agency providers to deliver services, many of which provide meals, according to budget documents.

DFTA’s senior centers serve nearly 30,000 individuals each day, and provide meals, recreational, health promotion and cultural activities, according to the department’s 2019 Annual Plan Summary.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has identified individuals over 50, and those with illnesses such as cancer, lung disease, heart disease, diabetes or a weakened immune system at high risk of contracting the disease. Early data also suggests that “older people are twice as likely to have serious COVID-19 illness.”

New York City continues to see increases in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the function of both more testing and community spread of the disease. There are more than 900 confirmed cases and more than ten deaths, through Tuesday afternoon, with many of those infected and the majority killed over 50 years old.

The United States, New York State, and New York City have all declared states of emergency in an effort to increase resources available to slow the spread of the coronavirus and prevent our hospital system from becoming overwhelmed. With this state of emergency has come a worldwide call to action wherein individuals are being asked to practice “social distancing,” and several official measures taken to encourage it, like the shutdown of restaurants to takeout/delivery-only, closure of movie theaters, and so on.

Even those who are asymptomatic or don’t have the virus are being told to stay home as much as possible and keep a safe distance from others to prevent coronavirus from spreading, and especially to prevent the spread to vulnerable populations, such as seniors. Other measures include the school closures and major limits if not bans on visits to nursing homes populated by seniors, many of them with health problems that make them even more susceptible to the impact of the virus.

The state announced that starting March 13, “only medically necessary visits will be allowed in nursing homes,” and has asked nursing homes to set up online communication capacity for families to be able to interact with their loved ones. Staff have regular interaction with vulnerable New Yorkers, and in order to protect seniors all workers in nursing homes are required to undergo health screening each day and wear surgical masks.

“That's the reason why we're closing the schools,” said New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Oxiris Barbot at a press availability March 15. “That's the reason why we're telling people not to go to work if they can telecommute, because we want people to have more distance from each other...we want to reduce the number of New Yorkers that get infected, and as importantly, if not more importantly, we want to reduce the number of New Yorkers who are at risk for bad health outcomes such as needing to end up in the hospital, in the ICU, or God forbid dying because of this. And it's a real reality.”

On March 6, the City Council held a budget hearing on the city’s Department for the Aging (DFTA) scheduled to discuss the agency’s overall work and the mayor’s proposed budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which begins July 1, but the discussion was dominated by questions about COVID-19.

During the hearing, DFTA Commissioner Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez responded to questions about DFTA’s response to the virus saying, “I have the utmost confidence that the mayor is going to do all he can and has made it very clear that this is a priority and that resources will be made available to combat this disease.”

Last week, the Mayor's Office of Engagement along with DFTA were planning to go to over 600 congregate sites to ensure information about the virus was being disseminated and city guidelines adhered to. As of Monday, however, all senior centers are closed, except for meal delivery purposes.

“To ensure that older New Yorkers who rely on daily congregate meals are not faced with food insecurity, senior centers will operate strictly to provide take-home meals to older adults,” Suzanne Myklebust, Deputy Director of Public Affairs for DFTA said in an email to Gotham Gazette. “For older adults who are unable to pick-up their daily congregate meal, they can ask their senior center to have their meal delivered instead.”

“We are working closely with our network of providers to allow them to determine arrangements for meal pick-up and if they require any additional support,” Mykleburst said. “In an effort to provide additional support, we have continued a partnership with Citymeals on Wheels to further assist senior centers in the provision of meals to their clients during this closure. This week, 96,000 shelf-stable meals will be provided to the senior centers for distribution to their members.”

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

This story has been updated with additional info on nursing home regulations.

City Closes Hundreds of Senior Centers, But Will Provide Meals to Aging Population Especially Vulnerable to Coronavirus Tue, 17 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Spread of Coronavirus Heightens Concerns About Especially Vulnerable Seniors aging execu budget

Department for the Aging Commissioner Cortés-Vázquez (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

“We’re going to protect our senior centers,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday during his latest briefing on the spread of the new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, adding that city health department officials are visiting all of the city’s 600 such centers to ensure proper protocols amid the virus outbreak that has now led to 20 confirmed cases in the city, with more expected.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), older adults are at higher risk for contracting the new coronavirus that is spreading across the globe and here in New York City, and “early data suggest older people are twice as likely to have serious COVID-19 illness.”

During his Sunday briefing on the new coronavirus, Governor Andrew Cuomo also again stressed that seniors are among the most vulnerable populations to COVID-19. “Most people have mild symptoms, most people don't get hospitalized,” Cuomo said. “The dangerous aspect again is people in that vulnerable population -- senior citizens, the elderly, et cetera. So we are trying to contain it.”

Also on Sunday, the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, pointed to the additionally dangerous combination of age and underlying conditions. “We want to make sure that elderly folks who have chronic underlying illnesses, we do everything that we can together as a community not to increase their risk,” Barbot said alongside the mayor. The underlying conditions that have been identified to exacerbate the risk of coronavirus are chronic lung disease, cancer, diabetes, immuno-compromised, heart disease.

“As our senior New Yorkers, as you've heard today, are especially vulnerable to the effects of this virus, we are also working very closely with the Department for the Aging and our other human service partners to ensure our senior centers, adult care centers, nursing homes, receive up to date guidance on how to limit the spread of the disease,” said Deanne Criswell, head of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, also during Sunday’s press conference on how the city is trying to contain and combat the new coronavirus.

Amid rising worries about older New Yorkers and senior care facilities, on Friday the New York City Council’s Committee on Aging held a regularly-scheduled budget hearing with representatives of the city’s Department for the Aging (DFTA) where coronavirus concerns were front and center in the discussion. It was one in an ongoing series of hearings on de Blasio’s $95.3 billion preliminary budget plan that the Council is holding over the course of weeks, with some taking on new importance relative to the spread of coronavirus and its impact, which could include undermining revenue sources for the city’s budget while creating new city government expenses.

City government is developing a plan to try and ensure New York City’s seniors stay healthy as the coronavirus concerns continue, although no additional funding has been requested by DFTA to provide further protections.

DFTA currently has a $434 million budget and oversees “230 neighborhood senior centers, 16 innovative senior centers, and 39 sites affiliated with senior centers” across the city and has 1,393 contracts with agency providers to deliver services, according to budget documents.

DFTA Commissioner Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, along with the department’s chief financial officer, Jose Mercado, outlined the agency’s work and budget, and responded to questions from Council members, especially Margaret Chin, a Manhattan Democrat who is chair of the Council Committee on Aging and whose lower Manhattan district includes several senior centers.

Cortés-Vázquez was asked multiple times by Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr. if DFTA is asking for or plans to ask for any additional funding to address coronavirus.

“I have the utmost confidence that the mayor is going to do all he can and has made it very clear that this is a priority and that resources will be made available to combat this disease,” Cortés-Vázquez responded.

Pressed further by Diaz Sr. about limited testing for coronavirus and what DFTA is going to do if the virus begins to enter senior centers.

“Our Department of Health and our commissioner of health has been having tabletop meetings on a daily basis with the mayor around this same issue,” Cortés-Vázquez said. “We have the utmost confidence that this administration and this health commissioner made all the provisions necessary if it were to reach that level. It has not reached that level and we do not want to cause chaos or alarm in our senior centers or in the population as a whole.”

Council Member Chin brought the mayor's plan to have city workers visit senior centers to the attention of Cortés-Vázquez, who then provided further information on the plan.

“We have been given incredible amounts of guidance and information,” Cortés-Vázquez said. “The mayor wanted to ensure the information was being implemented, so we have an emergency plan that we have devised that involves DFTA staff as well as additional staff to visit the congregate sites throughout the city precisely to ensure they are posting the information, that the information is being distributed to the consumer population and the population staff is responsible for; to ensure that the professionals have the guidance to know what to do should any incident occur and also to inform the staff, the non-medical staff, know what the protocols are. It’s a widespread effort to ensure everyone is taking the proper precautions and using the guidance that has been distributed to them.”

Cortés-Vázquez said the effort will reach over 600 senior centers, including those not funded by DFTA.

“To ensure that older New Yorkers are staying informed about coronavirus, starting today, DFTA staff will be visiting over 600 congregate sites to check that Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) COVID-19 informational fliers are on display and share DOHMH resources,” said Suzanne Myklebust, Deputy Director of Public Affairs for DFTA, in a Friday email to Gotham Gazette just after the hearing, answering follow-up questions.

“DFTA is working closely with its partners to distribute information and guidance on coronavirus. As a preventative measure against the spread of COVID-19, we have asked providers to continue to follow standard cleaning protocols and be extra diligent in their disinfecting practices,” Myklebust said.

Council Member Mark Treyger, a Brooklyn Democrat, also inquired about DFTA’s preparedness for the spread of coronavirus, citing the example of the city Department of Education asking for additional funding to provide the resources to deep clean the city’s schools and to contract with more nurses so that every school building has at least one nurse.

“My concern is that if we don’t have a health care professional at the front end and proactively helping the population, the worst thing that can happen is that seniors end up in emergency rooms and hospitals which are very dangerous because of the spread of other very serious diseases and can really compromise their health. I think it is wise for us to proactively provide health care professionals,” Treyger said.

Cortés-Vázquez responded that providers have enough resources and to the best of her knowledge no senior service providers have asked for additional funding. She also emphasized that this is an ongoing conversation in conjunction with the Department of Health and the Mayor’s Office, and that maintenance and sanitary conditions are always a priority given that senior centers provide meals, so it is not a new area of concern.

DFTA congregate sites also have a procedure if seniors begin to show symptoms or are found to have the virus.

“If a senior center member displays symptoms of sickness while at that center, senior center staff has been instructed to immediately restrict the movement of that person within the facility, by isolating the suspected case and minimizing interaction with staff and other members, and from leaving the facility,” Myklebust said by email. “The senior center staff should then call 311 to contact the nearest healthcare provider who can provide additional guidance. If an individual is found to be confirmed for COVID-19 infection, the individual should follow the recommendations of healthcare professionals and refrain from visiting any congregate sites altogether.”

Some emergency action was triggered when it was learned that a health care worker who has tested positive for coronavirus had been in contact with residents of a nursing home in southern Brooklyn.

Brooklyn City Council Member Justin Brannan tweeted on Sunday an update that the healthcare worker, who lives in New Jersey but works at King David Nursing Home, had come into contact with eight residents of the home, but that none of them were showing as symptomatic of COVID-19. Each family has also been notified, Brannan said.

At Mayor de Blasio’s press conference on Sunday, he was asked about the King David Nursing Home case, and Commissioner Barbot responded that each of the individuals who were exposed “are all in private rooms and being monitored daily. So they're in the appropriate level of isolation.” De Blasio also added that all were asymptomatic.

Also Discussed at the Hearing
Other topics that were brought up during the budget hearing with DFTA representatives included increased funding for the home delivered meals program, and what DFTA is going to do about the growing waitlist for homecare and case management.

The Council committee report in response to DFTA’s preliminary budget highlighted that there has been “persistent over-serving against the home-delivered meals target,” which presents higher demand than has been accounted for. Council members raised concerns about this in addition to rising food costs, advocating for higher funding for home delivered meals to preemptively address the concern so they can meet demand.

Cortés-Vázquez said of the home delivered meals that they will consider budgetary changes to address rising food prices, and said that saying there’s a waitlist for home delivered meals is misleading.

“We triage it and those with the greatest needs get priority. Everyone gets a phone assessment so we can assess. If someone needs a meal, that meal gets turned on immediately. So it is not a waitlist in a traditional way you think of a waitlist. Is it a problem, is the need growing? Absolutely. But it is not a problem that is not being managed,” Cortés-Vázquez said.  

Cortés-Vázquez emphasized multiple times during the hearing that combating social isolation and geriatric mental health, and confronting ageism as a whole are also priorities for DFTA.

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Spread of Coronavirus Heightens Concerns About Especially Vulnerable Seniors Mon, 09 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
The Mayor's Moment to Show His Commitment to Seniors de blasio seniors

Mayor de Blasio speaks with seniors (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

As we age, we build momentum that is powering the economy, communities, and politics. Older people across the five boroughs are supporting local businesses, caring for their grandchildren, and participating in local politics. And yet we still find that many people aging into their later years cannot access this energy due to poverty, disability, and the lack of access to vital community services. We know almost one in three older New Yorkers struggles to make ends meet – living with painful, daily choices among food, medicine, and rent.

Over 40% report levels of disability and many older people struggle with social isolation, which research now tells us is a greater predictor of early death than obesity. Further, thanks to stagnant and antiquated city funding levels, over 800 are waiting since August for home care, while upwards of 2,000 are waiting for case management services that help people remain in their homes with modest assistance.

At first glance the issues seem overwhelming and unsolvable. But in fact, we already know what works and thankfully have an infrastructure here in New York to build upon. LiveOn NY represents a network of 100 member non-profit organizations that run roughly 800 programs in the five boroughs, including senior centers, meals on wheels, caregiver support, and case management. These programs provide critical community-based supports that together represent the foundation of an age-friendly city.

And this network of services is as diverse as our great city – providing assistance, classes, and programming that reflect every language, culture, nationality, and identity. Furthermore, we know that these services are not only culturally relevant and locally based but also efficient and effective. A recent New York City Department for the Aging study reports that seven in ten seniors attend their local senior center to avoid social isolation and over 20% found improved mental health through attendance. One out of four reported their physical health improved. These are important results and have incredible potential as people age into their seventies, eighties, and nineties.

So given the importance of these services in helping us age well and in our beloved communities, why is this network completely left out of the mayor’s budget priorities? Once again, we have an executive budget proposal from the mayor that shows a refusal to add any new funds to solve wait-lists or add capacity for future demand.

If Mayor de Blasio supports social justice and believes in progressivism, why does he leave out the later years of life? Are older New Yorkers exempt from social justice across the lifespan? And what about the daughter caring for her aging mother and her own children? She can count on universal pre-kindergarten for her young children yet nothing but waiting lists for her aging mother.

Mayor de Blasio ran on ending the tale of two cities. He recognized that the conditions in our wealthiest zip codes were only half of the story and that a truly progressive New York must create equitable opportunity for all. The chapters in that tale cannot end at age 60. We must ensure social justice across the lifespan. In addition to funding for the youngest and healthiest among us, the city budget must also include a robust plan that will support all of us as we age.

LiveOn NY, together with other advocates, has presented a $60 million budget plan to appropriately fund the city’s Department for the Aging. This needed support would begin to make the kind of investment in aging services that are needed. And beyond the budget, all of us must get involved in advocating for this inclusion. The foundation of aging services exists but needs serious additional investment in order to remain in place today and into the future.

Mayor de Blasio and the City Council have a choice - harness the momentum of later life by ensuring an equitable city budget or contribute to the tale of two cities. As New Yorkers, we pride ourselves on our ingenuity to develop solutions to challenging problems. We’ve often thought that the hidden secret of this city is the heart and willingness to work hard on behalf of our vulnerable neighbors. As we live longer, New Yorkers are seeking solutions to the challenges of aging and to the strong desire to remain engaged, involved citizens. Let’s lean in and move the momentum of older New Yorkers forward. Opportunities abound. But not without budgetary commitments to aging services.

Allison Nickerson is executive director and Bobbie Sackman is associate executive director of public policy for LiveOn NY. On Twitter @LiveOnNY.

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The Mayor's Moment to Show His Commitment to Seniors Fri, 19 May 2017 02:26:29 +0000
Hearing Showcases Frustrations Over Stagnant Aging Department Budget chin vallone mccarten

Council Members Chin, left, & Vallone (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

The City Council Committee on Aging held a hearing on Monday to examine the allotment for the Department of the Aging (DFTA) in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently-released executive budget plan.

Council members and DFTA representatives for the de Blasio administration discussed the situation that seniors may be facing given reduced funding numbers in de Blasio’s $84.86 billion budget proposal. The Council, in its response to the mayor’s preliminary budget, had called for $60 million in additional funding for DFTA for Fiscal Year 2018, a request shared by senior advocates such as LiveOn NY. According to the City Council, none of that request was added for DFTA in the mayor's new iteration of the city spending plan.

The mayor’s executive budget, presented to the public on April 26, includes $194.6 million in city funding for DFTA, representing 63% of DFTA’s proposed budget. This is a $21.8 million, or 11%, reduction in funding from the current fiscal year, which, along with proposed cuts in federal funding by the Republican-controlled Congress, has senior advocates and City Council members worried, despite an increase in funding from the state government. Among other things, the proposed agency budget includes $171.8 million for senior centers and meals, a $24 million reduction from the 2017 adopted budget, and $35.9 million for case management services, an increase of $2.9 million.

Donna Corrado, the Commissioner of DFTA, assured Council members that despite the apparent cut in funding for the agency, seniors were not necessarily being thrown under the bus by the de Blasio administration.

“In addition to these funds,” she said, “the mayor has committed tens of millions of dollars to other city agencies that will directly benefit older New Yorkers, such as to set aside 15,000 affordable housing units targeted to households where older people reside, and a recently announced proposal which will require city and state legislative approval to raise the Senior Citizen Homeowner’s Exemption household income eligibility from $37,400 to $58,400, which would benefit an estimated 32,000 households in New York City.”

One of the major issues at hand was the executive budget’s failure to address the issue of seniors being stuck on waiting lists for case management services -- a long-standing problem.

Seniors ineligible for Medicaid services are eligible for counseling, meals, transportation, and other services through city case management, but the services are chronically underfunded, with high numbers of cases per caseworker, who are paid low salaries on top of that, which creates additional problems. The City Council, led by aging committee chair Council Member Margaret Chin, earlier this year declared 2017 “The Year of the Senior,” in part with an eye on the large number of seniors on waitlists -- currently 1,864, although the Commissioner claimed a slightly lower number of 1700 -- for case management services, as well as the 900 seniors sitting on the waitlist for home care services.

Council Member Chaim Deutsch asked Corrado what the criteria is for who goes on the waitlist.

“There’s no criteria necessarily that’s systematic across the board,” she said. “Some agencies don’t keep a waitlist because they try either -- one, they close intake, which is very unfortunate but because it’s a finite service with a finite amount of funding and staff and resources, they do close intake, so they won’t take on any new clients.” She also mentioned the fact that some clients may be referred to other programs.

When finance committee chair Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland pressed Corrado on how much money would be necessary to clear the waitlists, Corrado refused to answer, saying that the cost “fluctuates” every day.

The other major issue addressed by the committee was that of senior centers, which were recognized across the board as inadequate. The budget does not allocate money towards new senior centers, and their funding has decreased by 12% in the proposal.

“To me, senior centers save lives,” said Council Member Karen Koslowitz, noting that she has never seen a new senior center in her community in the long time that she’s lived there, despite the existing ones being packed.

The hearing was attended by many members of AARP, distinguished by their trademark red shirts, who are frustrated by the city’s inaction. Council Member Chin shared this sentiment, declaring that she was “angry, but yet determined,” demanding that everyone in the room work collectively to “secure additional funding for the agency before the budget is adopted.”

After a series of executive budget hearings at the Council, negotiations will continue behind closed doors, leading to a budget deal between de Blasio and the Council by the July 1 start of next fiscal year.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Hearing Showcases Frustrations Over Stagnant Aging Department Budget Mon, 08 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Funding Issues, Waitlists Plague City’s Services for Seniors seniors city hall

Seniors at City Hall (photo: @nonprofittalk)

A June City Council report on the budget for the city Department for the Aging (DFTA) detailed that there are approximately 1,400 seniors on waiting lists for case management services. The average age of these seniors is “85+,” with an average income of “$12,000-$20,000,” according to LiveOn, a senior advocacy organization. The City Council report examined the adopted budget for the new fiscal year, which began July 1, and makes clear that DFTA is not being funded with a sense of urgency to quickly reduce waitlists and serve the city’s oldest, often neediest residents.

The Department for the Aging uses federal, state, and city funds to provide advocacy, education, and services that range from hot meals at senior centers to transportation and legal aid. DFTA provides case management services for those not covered by Medicaid; those waitlisted are without access to trained employees of city-contracted nonprofits that evaluate seniors’ needs and coordinate appropriate care.

Seniors are one of the city’s fastest growing demographics: in a July press release announcing an “‘Aging in Place’ guide to help older New Yorkers,” Department for the Aging Commissioner Donna Corrado reported that there were 1.4 million adults over the age of 60 living in New York City, with an expected 2 million by 2040. Ninety-six percent of this group chooses to stay in their apartments over relocation as they age and need more attention. "So many seniors are held captive in their homes because of a lack of accessibility," Corrado said. Often, this accessibility takes the form of physical frailty, disability, chronic illness and disease.

DFTA reaches homebound seniors through case management services. Part of the state-funded Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly, case management provides seniors ineligible for Medicaid, with counseling, advocacy, referrals, and information. The service is made possible through referrals to local senior centers and community-based social service and healthcare agencies.

Case management is also an entry point to homecare services, which include medical assessments and referrals and information to ensure appropriate care. Seniors are unable to receive homecare services without access to a case manager. In its May report, the City Council reported a homecare waitlist of 500-550.

The case management problem stems in part from high turnover among case managers, fueled by low salaries. The same LiveOn report claims an average annual turnover rate of 32%, with seven nonprofit agencies reporting over 40%, and each with 100 to 300-plus waitlisted seniors, as of February.

While, this year, the City Council called for $12 million to raise case manager salaries to $55,000 and supervisor salaries to $65,000, $4.8 million was allocated in the fiscal year 2017 budget and $7.3 million in 2018 to raise salaries to $50,000 and $60,000, respectively. Currently, each case manager is responsible for up to 65 clients at a time. Although this number may seem high, as of a few years ago it was in the neighborhood of 90, according to experts.

The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has also declined to provide funding to address other causes of the waitlist, independent of salary woes. The June City Council report showed that $1.8 million was baselined to strengthen existing services, short of the $3 million allocated in fiscal year 2016. The $3 million would have, at a very minimum, allowed DFTA to maintain its then-level of service. Bobbie Sackman, director of public policy at LiveOn, told Gotham Gazette that the city’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) told LiveOn that the $1.2 million difference has been added since. Sackman could not confirm this information and an inquiry from Gotham Gazette to a budget spokesperson in the mayor’s press office was not returned by publication.

"We still have a way to go to restore aging funding to pre-recessionary levels," City Council Member Margaret Chin, chair of the Council's Committee On Aging, said in the Council report.

Chin refers to the heavy budget cuts that took place under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's tenure. Taking action to address the fallout of the Great Recession, Bloomberg oversaw a $30 million reduction in the DFTA budget, according to a 2010 WNYC report. DFTA was left with a $264 million budget, far short of the current $330 million adopted agency budget for the new fiscal year, and a sliver of the city's $82 billion in expenses.

"Seniors should not be on any waiting list,” Chin said in an interview. “Our senior population is growing tremendously, so as the numbers grow, the needs grow also…by 2030, one in five is going to be a senior, so we have to make sure the budget reflects that."

Chin was critical of the lack of salary parity between case managers and comparable government positions. "If other agencies are paying a higher salary for the same type of job, it's very hard for the agency that has these case managers to compete, so there's a lot of turnover, and we don't want that to happen," Chin said. "We have to make sure there are enough case managers.”

Sackman of LiveOn lamented that "There is no plan.” “The fastest-growing segment of the city's population, and there is no plan," she said. Sackman offered a potential explanation: "I think some of it is because you can't get any more invisible than being a homebound 85-year-old person."

"There's not enough money,” Sackman concluded after discussing the problems facing the city’s older population and the city government response. No one from DFTA was made available for comment for this story.

One key issue, Sackman noted, is that case management services are for seniors above the Medicaid level. "So, no one's running to the bank," she said. "If you're eligible for Medicaid, it's an entitlement, and you get a pretty broad array of services…if you're not eligible you're really out in the cold a lot."

The same is true for homecare services. "If you are on Medicaid, you can get 10 hours a day of homecare, and while it's more difficult, you could still get 24 hours care. On the EISEP (Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly), it's not an entitlement, you might get one to 12 hours a week," said Sackman. "Remember, to get homecare you've got to be assessed by a case manager. They are the gatekeepers. So if you're sitting on a waiting list, you can't get home services. It's a vicious cycle."

Both and Sackman and Chin were quick to highlight that the waitlist issue also impacts family members and loved ones already acting as unpaid adult caregivers. "They are struggling day-to-day, figuring out how to juggle work and other responsibilities in life while taking care of their elderly parents," Sackman said. "They just don't have a system in place to help them."

Chin offered an example of what this looks like: "Imagine someone in their sixties taking care of someone in their eighties and nineties."

Sandy Myers, director of government and external relations at Selfhelp community services, a city contracted nonprofit, knows case management waitlists firsthand. Selfhelp’s two DFTA funded case management programs have a combined 170 waitlisted seniors.

"All seniors are needy, regardless of their needs," Myers said in an interview. She emphasized the relevance of senior issues. "We want to have good people in the field who will be caring for all of us when we age."

Selfhelp was founded in 1936 to serve those fleeing Nazi persecution. After World War II, the organization began serving survivors as well, providing them with job training, resettlement, and case management, among other services. As the refugees and survivors continued to age, Selfhelp evolved into a senior-focused organization to help vulnerable populations "age with independence and dignity."

Today, Selfhelp serves 20,000 seniors at 27 across four boroughs and Nassau County. This includes five senior centers and four Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCS). A number of sites are located in Queens, many of which serve the Chinese community, as well as Korean, Latino, and other immigrant populations. Selfhelp emphasizes hiring culturally sensitive staff, including employees fluent in Russian for the 25% of clients who are WWII survivors. These professionals are well-versed in relevant topics of interest, like Soviet Union reparations, for one.

Myers views the case management dilemma through a humanitarian lens. "For some of our clients, their interaction with the case manager is really one of their only interactions, if not the only interaction,” she said. "When you have people who are constantly leaving, the quality of service suffers, as well as the client-worker relationship…there is obviously a lag between the time that someone leaves and when we are able to bring in someone new to train them." Myers noted that this turnover time is often two to four months, or more.

Above all, Myers classified case managers as an invaluable safety net. She told a story of a 102-year-old client who one day didn't answer the door for her meal delivery. The service provider contacted Selfhelp, who proceeded to call her house, to no avail. Selfhelp alerted case management staff, who went to her apartment, opened up her door with another key, and found the woman lying on the floor, unable to move. "It's probably not an exaggeration to say that we saved her life," Myers remarked.

Mayor de Blasio often talks about budgets as indicators of values and about the need for government to treat its most vulnerable citizens well. It is especially difficult to advocate for senior services funding and reform, Sackman said, because "it's not the sexiest issue." Told she was the second person to use those exact words, Sackman laughed and said, "Well, it's true. Except, if you're in my world, it's very sexy."

by Benjamin Jurney for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Funding Issues, Waitlists Plague City’s Services for Seniors Mon, 26 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Under-reported Abuse Given Higher Priority in New City Budget seniors rally

Rally for senior funding (photo via Council Member Chin)

After more than a decade of abuse, she finally called for help. Dialing 311, the 80-year-old widow - who had remained silent for years as the granddaughter she had raised yelled and cursed at her, slapped her, and stole from her - reached out for help after the younger woman threatened to seriously injure her.

She was referred by 311 to JASA, a non-profit serving seniors that contracts with the city. JASA staff helped her obtain an Order of Protection to stop the abuse, put her in a support group, and ensured the police would check on her. But even now, she refuses to have her granddaughter removed from her home and continues to live with her abuser.

This grandmother is among the more than 120,000 New Yorkers believed to be suffering from elder abuse. Both her situation and her unwillingness to report it are typical of the vast majority of elder abuse cases. Except in the most horrific instances, these are not headline-grabbing incidents, and the victims are among society's most vulnerable, often unable to fight for themselves.

Elder abuse includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, as well as neglect. Its most common form is financial exploitation. "Elder abuse victims are 300 percent more likely to die prematurely than non-abused elderly," says Risa Breckman, executive director of NYC Elder Abuse Center, citing a medical study. This problem is increasing in scale with New York City's aging population. And with nine percent of the city's seniors estimated to be victims of abuse, it is also a problem that has been remarkably underfunded according to advocates and providers of elder abuse services.

This year, New York City's budget includes $2.8 million in funding for elder abuse services, more than three times the amount devoted to this issue in previous years. "They have it exactly right," says Breckman. "There needed to be more resources for this."

The city's Department for the Aging contracts its elder abuse services to community-based organizations. There are only a handful of organizations—some with surprisingly small staffs—carrying out this work in all of New York City.

These providers execute wide-ranging services such as counseling, support groups, legal advice and counsel, safe haven, and lock changing to keep an abuser out of the house. They also perform outreach to senior centers to make seniors aware of their options and to other groups such as neighbors, doormen, meal delivery personnel, librarians, and even barbers who may be able to recognize and report the signs of abuse.

Since the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, around $800,000 was allocated annually for elder abuse services. This funding often became part of the "budget dance" with the mayor cutting it down and City Council fighting to restore it. Advocates for seniors argued that this was too small an amount for the protection of the over 1.4 million New Yorkers over the age of 60.

Last year, Bill de Blasio's first as mayor, the funding in the budget for elder abuse services did not increase, though the City Council allocated $1 million of its discretionary funds for such services. Seniors and their allies then launched a concerted effort to bring about an increase and it was widely expected that funding by the mayor would jump to over $2 million for fiscal year 2016. But when de Blasio announced his preliminary and executive budgets earlier this year, the funding remained the same as it had been. Advocates then intensified their lobbying, and advocacy groups like LiveOn NY turned out more than a thousand seniors at City Hall between March and June on Advocacy Day, Elder Abuse Awareness Day, and for budget hearings.

In this effort to increase funding, the biggest ally of seniors and senior advocates was Council Member Margaret Chin, chair of the City Council Committee on Aging. "She's a great chair," says Bobbie Sackman, director of public policy at LiveOn NY. Hundreds of seniors came for the committee's executive budget hearing, many having to watch the proceedings from an overflow room. "What we need is a budget that really makes seniors a top priority. And this budget right now is not it," Chin said in her opening remarks at the hearing.

"She wouldn't let it go and she kept pushing the administration saying 'you've got to fund this $2 million,'" says Sackman. Fighting alongside Chin was Council Member Paul Vallone, chair of the Subcommittee on Senior Centers. His opening remarks were equally firm. "The senior population will increase by 50 percent [in the next 10 years] and this budget didn't go up by a dollar," he said. "To me, if that's not a cut, I don't know what is."

Eventually the administration conceded and the adopted budget more than tripled the funding to $2.8 million.

Advocates say the toughest challenge in getting funding for elder abuse is the lack of reporting of such cases. "We have a hidden crisis and we're asking them to fund something that you're seeing the tip of the iceberg of," says Sackman. A 2011 study of elder abuse in New York State showed that only four percent of the cases of elder abuse are reported. "That's why it's important to really do education to let people know that there are services available to help them, that it's nothing to be ashamed about and that they would be able to get help," Council Member Chin told Gotham Gazette.

A close relationship with the abuser is one of the main reasons for low reporting rates. In the vast majority of cases—many studies cite the number at 80 percent—the abuser is a family member. "That's one of the reasons it's so hidden, because people are either afraid or ashamed," says Sackman. "Who's going to report on their son or daughter?"

Some also blame ageism for the lack of attention to this problem. "People assume that someone who is over the age of 60 or 70 or 80 will have some form of dementia and won't be able to report reliably or give information that is pertinent," says Martha Pollack, director of elder abuse services for JASA. "And this is not the case at all." People are often less likely to believe seniors when they complain of abuse.

With a few dozen people and $800,000 from the city budget to deal with all the cases of elder abuse in the city, elder abuse fighting organizations' resources have been stretched thin. "Prior to the city providing this [new increase] we were at a point where we would have to tell individuals we may have to shut the program and we would go around scrambling for money," says Donna Dougherty, an attorney at JASA.

Advocates say that the increased funding will ensure that more elderly people are served. Organizations will be able to hire more staff, do more outreach, and collaborate more effectively with the NYPD and offices of the district attorneys. Dougherty says this funding "has made a tremendous, tremendous difference in our ability to provide this service and our ability to provide it ongoing, to expand, and to be able to tell our clients: 'We'll be there tomorrow, we're not going anywhere.'"

The Carter Burden Center for Aging is another organization that will benefit from the increase in funds in the budget. Michelle Galligan, director of their Community Elder Mistreatment & Abuse Prevention Program, says they will use the money to double their staff, which currently consists of only two social workers.

The organizations contracted by the city are also planning to use the additional $2 million to reach out to more diverse and immigrant communities where victims of elder abuse speak out at even lower rates, either because of cultural norms or language barriers.

The City Council also took this into consideration in the distribution of the $335,000 of discretionary spending allocated to non-profits to carry out elder abuse services. They have allocated $135,000 to New York Asian Women's Center, $50,000 to Sakhi for South Asian Women, and $50,000 for Turning Point for Women and Families, a nonprofit helping Muslim women. "We want to make sure that seniors who don't speak English and who are linguistically and culturally isolated, that they are also able to get information about what elder abuse is, how they can access service and what organizations are available to help them," explained Chin.

But Galligan cautions that even this tripling of the funding is not as much as it seems when divided across the city and translates into $480,000 for Manhattan, where her organization operates. "As much as we're grateful for the increase in funding," she says, "we can always use more."

"We just want to make sure that money stays in the budget, that it's not money we have to keep fighting for, because we want to grow it," says Sackman. "It's a good thing, we just need more."

by Zehra Rehman, Gotham Gazette

Under-reported Abuse Given Higher Priority in New City Budget Fri, 17 Jul 2015 03:22:37 +0000
7 Points of Contention as City Budget Deal Finalized BdB MMV RI

Mayor de Blasio & Speaker Mark-Viverito talk (photo: William Alatriste)

“This year we're fighting for much-needed funds that will get #NYC 6-day library service citywide, more police, better parks & much more,” tweeted City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer on Monday morning.

Van Bramer, who chairs the Council’s cultural affairs committee, where the debate over library funding has largely been heard, reminded of the Council’s budget priorities as final negotiations take place between the 51-member legislative body and the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio. A deal on a fiscal year 2016 budget is due by July 1, when the new city fiscal year begins. Many expect a deal to be announced this week - last year, the first as mayor for de Blasio and as speaker of the Council for Melissa Mark-Viverito, a budget deal was announced on June 19.

Van Bramer and colleague Council Members Vanessa Gibson, who chairs the public safety committee, and Mark Levine, chair of the parks committee, were on NY1’s Inside City Hall on Friday discussing the final stages of budget negotiations.

“Obviously it is a very inclusive and collaborative process, but at the end of the day the mayor and the speaker will conclude with a deal that reflects the work we’ve been doing as a body over the past several weeks and months,” Van Bramer said.

After de Blasio released his executive budget on May 7, council members have continued to push for an increase in funds for libraries, parks, NYPD headcount, senior citizen services, women’s health services, city-funded school lunches for all students, and more. One other high-profile funding question is whether de Blasio will put money toward a city bail fund, as proposed by Mark-Viverito.

In response to the proposed executive budget, Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras and Mark-Viverito released a joint statement in May praising the budget’s strong capital investment and increased funding toward mental health programs, public housing, and after-school programs for students. But they also chastised the lack of investment in policing and universal school lunch.

“The City Council is disappointed that the Executive Budget does not contain funding for new Police Officers who will help give Commissioner Bratton the tools he needs to continue to keep crime low while also improving police-community relations. The Council was also disappointed to see the Executive Budget does not expand funding for universal free school lunches and breakfast after the bell,” the statement says. “The Council will continue to advocate for these priorities moving forward.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that the sides are closing in on a deal to expand the NYPD force by several hundred and that an announcement on that and the rest of the budget could be as early as Monday night. As a city budget deal approaches, a look at several key issues being negotiated:

NYPD Headcount
For a second straight year Mayor de Blasio declined to include money in his budget to hire 1,000 new police officers per the Council’s request, led by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. De Blasio said in May that the NYPD is doing an “outstanding” job as it is and that because officers are spending less time on unnecessary stop and frisks and low-level marijuana arrests, they are freed up to do more of the community policing Council members are seeking the additonal headcount to perform.

Mark-Viverito has since continued to push for additional officers. The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday night that the de Blasio administration will likely expand the size of the police force in exchange for capping overtime for officers.

City Bail Fund
In her February State of the City address, Mark-Viverito proposed a $1.4 million city-wide bail fund to assist low level, non-violent offenders who are unable to make bail. De Blasio declined to provide money for the bail fund in his executive budget.

However, less than a month later, de Blasio endorsed “some sort of bail reform” following the suicide of Kalief Browder, who was detained at Rikers Island for three years before he stood trial and his charges— that of stealing a backpack— were dismissed.

After delivering a statement at an oversight hearing on bail reform last week, Mark-Viverito told reporters that the council could “get [the bail fund] done without the administration’s support.”

On Thursday, de Blasio was asked about Mark-Viverito’s assertion and said, “we’re in a budget discussion and all items are being discussed. I believe in the need for bail reform, and there’s several different ways to do that.” He said that city leaders “don’t want to see people going to jail simply because they can’t afford a small amount of bail for a minor offense,” but said that “there’s more than one way to address that issue” and that he is “particularly focused on...some of the efforts to have a supervised release effort for very low-level crimes that we’ve seen done effectively before.”

Universal Free School Lunch
Council members and Public Advocate Letitia James are pushing de Blasio to provide funding to pay for universal free lunch for all public school students in the city. De Blasio has pushed back on that proposal, arguing that the pilot program his administration funded last year that provided free lunch to all middle schoolers has yielded “mixed results.” Advocates for the program continue to push de Blasio to add funding.

Library Funding
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer has requested an additional $65 million for libraries, arguing that the need for library services is growing and that funding is below levels of several years ago. The executive budget includes $314 million. The de Blasio administration has also committed to a $300 million ten-year capital budget for libraries, an act representatives call “unprecedented.”

Senior Services
After the administration asked the Department of Aging to cut its budget by $3.1 million, Council Member Margaret Chin has requested an additional $11.5 million for senior services. The budget originally provided $2.6 million, then later added another $2 million to fund elder abuse programs.

Women’s Health Services
The Council Women’s Caucus, led by Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, has called on City Hall to support the Women’s Health Initiative— nearly $4 million baselined during the Bloomberg administration for groups that support women’s health services, including Planned Parenthood, That money is not included in de Blasio’s executive budget, though an administration source has said that the funding will be in the adopted budget after being reappropriated. Crowley, other Council members, advocates and service providers rallied at City Hall last week.

Parks Funding
The proposed budget includes $1.27 billion for parks, an overall increase of $50 million in spending. But some park advocates and Council members, including Mark Levine, are asking the mayor to invest more in parkland and to add $8.7 million for gardeners and maintenance workers, the New York Times reported.

“The parks budget has been stagnating for years. We only devote about one half of one percent of the city’s total budget for parks, it was triple that in the sixties,” Levine said Friday on NY1. “And you see it in our park system today…For parks in low- and moderate-income communities, they need robust public investment in their park system, which they’re not currently getting.”

When de Blasio unveiled his $78.3 billion executive budget on May 7, he touted investments in affordable housing, struggling schools, and fighting homelessness, while firmly rejecting the Council’s call to to hire additional police officers. However, it appears he may give way and expand NYPD headcount and perhaps a handful of other Council requests as negotiations continue, especially as the city’s tax revenues continue to increase. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said earlier this month that the city would end its 2015 fiscal year with a $3 billion surplus. The mayor and Council must come to an agreement by June 30.

by Catie Edmondson and Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@CatieEdmondson @tweetBenMax

7 Points of Contention as City Budget Deal Finalized Mon, 22 Jun 2015 17:21:23 +0000