The food stamp program, Medicare and Social Security benefits, affordable housing and funding for transportation are among the immediate concerns to the Queens Interagency Council on Aging, which is sponsoring its 31st Annual Legislative Forum on Feb. 7 at Queens Borough Hall in the hopes of seeing some positive action on behalf of the borough’s seniors.
Among the elected officials expected at the meeting are Borough President Melinda Katz, Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) and Council members Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), QICA Executive Director Bruce Cunningham said.
Founded in 1971 by social workers and healthcare providers dedicated to the concerns of older adults in the borough, QICA is a nonprofit, boroughwide coalition of more than 100 organizations and individuals that speaks with one voice on behalf of seniors and the agencies that serve them. It strives to ensure that all older adults have access to all services that are necessary to improve their health and well-being.
Impetus for the forum and the topics to be discussed come directly from suggestions from the organization’s members themselves, Cunningham said.
Their input “came from the ground up,” he added, and was compiled into the group’s position paper, which indicates that “senior services currently face tremendous challenges which can only be expected to worsen through the coming decades with the exponential growth in the number of Americans over the age of 60 and the rapidly decreasing services available to them. Senior citizens, many of whom live on a limited income, become particularly susceptible to cuts in publicly funded programs.”
Cunningham hopes the points made in the paper will be taken into consideration by the elected officials “and spur them to use their legislative power” to offer assistance to the seniors.
The council is also urging Congress to reauthorize the Older Americans Act of 1965, the first federal initiative aimed at providing comprehensive services for seniors, and to increase funding under the act to compensate for some local and state cutbacks.
One particular concern is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, otherwise known as food stamps. According to QICA, more than 1.3 million people in New York City — equivalent to approximately one in six New Yorkers — live in households facing food insecurity. The council hopes to see this issue addressed at the forum.
QICA also recommends that Congress modernize Medicare coverage to include vision, dental, podiatric and hearing services.
Also of primary interest is the need for affordable housing. QICA would like to see Mayor DeBlasio focus on increasing senior housing.
QICA also recommends the establishment of a dedicated funding stream for transportation programs that would be “baselined in the New York City Department for the Aging’s budget.”
The forum comes at a particularly vulnerable time for seniors. Jacqueline Eradiri, executive director of the Ridgewood Older Adult Center, said, “We’re in a flux,” pointing out that under the new mayor, “No commissioner has been named for the Department for the Aging,” amid speculation that the DFA might merge with the Human Resources Administration.
“It’s got people in a state of wondering what’s going on,” she said.
QICA board member and co-chair of the forum Barry Klitsberg said that in the past, the event has been “fairly successful” in getting the attention of the legislators in attendance and reminding them that “seniors do vote.”
He admitted that “it’s hard to say, ‘Yes, we did this,’ because we’re not working in a vacuum. We work with a lot of other organizations.”
But he believes “a lot of the items on the agenda do get their attention.”
The forum will take place in room 213 of Queens Borough Hall, located at 120-55 Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. and the meeting is expected to run until 11:30 a.m. Continental breakfast is included. The forum is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and pre-registration is advised. Contact QICA today at (718) 268-5954 or email@example.com for details or to sign up.