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Senior centers vie for new contracts, prepare for attrition

City Department for the Aging asks community groups to reapply to run gathering spaces

City Council members David Greenfield and Jessica Lappin at hearing for Department for the Aging, which had less bad budget news for seniors than usual. Photo: Alexander Hotz

For the first time in 12 years, the city’s Department for the Aging is asking more than 250 privately operated senior centers to reapply for city funds, and many have had a hard time making the cut.

At a City Council Committee on Aging budget hearing today, Department commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli testified that nearly 20 percent of the city’s senior centers have submitted incomplete contract applications. Her agency announced it has extended the deadline until later this month to allow applicants to revise their proposals.

“We felt like we needed additional time to clarify the process for everybody,” said Barrios-Paoli at a City Council hearing today. The new contracts are set to take effect July 1.

“What they’ve done is very laudable. A lot of times in government we see an RFP come out, people don’t fill it out correctly and they say too bad,” said Council member and chair of the Senior Centers Subcommittee David Greenfield to The New York World. “This is how government should work.”

The request for proposals, issued in February, sets new minimums for how many seniors (75) and meals (60) a center must serve daily in order to receive city funding.

More than 50 centers currently serve fewer patrons or meals than the minimum. But Barrios-Paoli assured the committee that the total funds and providers in each community district would remain the same even if the providers themselves changed. The commissioner noted in her testimony that some facilities submitted applications that proposed combining two or three existing senior centers.

“There is a concern that when you do consolidate centers it means that some centers will be closing,” said Carin Tinney, Policy Analyst for United Neighborhood Houses at the hearing. She noted that sites that lose city funding for meals will effectively cease to function. “While there is the notion that you can drop meals at the closed site, that site won’t have any availability for staffing or activities.”

This year the budget dance has been remarkably charitable to senior centers. Unlike most city agencies, the Department for the Aging did not have to produce a “gap closing” plan this fiscal year to reduce its spending or raise new revenue. What’s more, the administration agreed to build into the budget $14 million for senior centers and meals, a first for the Bloomberg administration. In preparation for the new contracts the agency even set aside an extra $4 million for senior centers.

“We’re thrilled because we desperately need the money,” said Bobbie Sackman, Council of Senior Center and Services director of public policy. “We’d like to thank the City Council for having it there every year after year after year.”

Barrios-Paoli said that all agencies were sent letters last Friday and that the 51 centers that sent in incomplete applications received correspondence detailing the material they had omitted from their applications. The new deadline is March 27.

 

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