The room was packed with concerned seniors and a who’s who of elected officials last Friday at the 31st annual Queens Interagency Council on Aging Legislative Forum held at Queens Borough Hall.
Representing QICA, a nonprofit borough-wide membership organization that speaks with one voice on behalf of seniors and the agencies that serve them, Barry Klitsberg, co-chairman of the Legislative Forum Committee, read the group’s position paper to the more than 100 in attendance.
The paper, culled directly from suggestions from members themselves, focuses on several topics that are of particular concern to the organization.
“Senior services currently face tremendous challenges which can only be expected to worsen through the coming decades,” the paper states.
In his presentation, Klitsberg indicated that “the 2014 budget has finally been resolved. The sequestration that was passed in 2012 and went into effect this past March has resulted in federal programs suffering massive cuts ... These cuts have reduced the number of seniors who receive home delivered meals, federally funded transportation assistance and other support services.”
The federal efforts the organization is focusing on include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as the Food Stamp Program. Also of concern are Medicare, which offers only limited foot-care, dental and vision services, and Social Security, which the paper suggests will offer beneficiaries dramatically reduced retirement and disability benefits in the future.
At the same time, “In 2014, Social Security payments went up by a paltry 1.4 percent,” the report indicates.
Affordable senior housing and access to effective modes of transportation also rank high on the organization’s list of issues that must be addressed.
Borough President Melinda Katz acknowledged that “this is a borough that has an aging population,” suggesting, too, that there is a need for more senior housing and improved infrastructure for all families, including seniors. She also stressed the importance of NORCs around the borough, referring to Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, or communities that were not originally built for seniors but which, over time, develop a significant proportion of older residents.
In rapid succession, nearly a dozen elected officials sang the praises of seniors and promised to offer them support.
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, referred to seniors as “the backbone of the city,” indicating that part of our job is to “build upon what they have created. We have to protect the people who made things happen in the city.”
Stringer’s sentiments were echoed by Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), who told the crowd, “You are the stabilizing force in our communities. You are the strongest advocates for you. Keep calling us to make sure we’re doing our jobs for you. We are here for you no matter what.”
Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) said, “Senior housing is of utmost importance to me. There is clearly a need for senior housing.”
Council member Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) indicated an interest in “trying to better match the needs of seniors.” He said he wants to “make sure seniors of every background have a safe and comfortable place to go during the day.”
Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) referred to NORC programs as a “tremendous asset to the community,” and called upon Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who was not in attendance, to increase non-Medicaid funding for seniors, for programs such as Meals on Wheels.