A transfer of funds in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's $152.3 billion executive budget proposal could blow a hole in the budget for the city Department for the Aging, potentially leading to the closure of dozens of senior centers.
Senior citizens advocates are planning a trip to Albany this week to meet with state officials and ask Cuomo to amend a proposal that would redirect funds from adult care to child care services, removing the flexibility the city has had in the past to allocate the funds at its own discretion.
Buried deep on page 368 of the governor’s Aid to Localities bill in his executive budget proposal there’s an allocation for Title XX funds — also referred to as the Social Services Block Grant, a capped entitlement program from the federal government. The proposal states that the funds will be used only for child care services.
Caryn Resnick, deputy commissioner for the Department of the Aging, said the agency estimates the transfer of funds would result in a $17 million cut to services. That could force the city to consider shutting down at least 65 senior centers.
“For now we do interpret this as a potential cut to our agency which would have pretty dramatic effects on our programming and our ability to fund senior centers and all the services they deliver,” Resnick said. “It’s really pretty dramatic — 65 centers is about a third or 30 percent of the senior centers.”
The Cuomo administration argued that redirecting the funding toward child care will not amount to a funding cut or reduction in services.
“We are directing Title XX funds to child care while increasing total funding to New York City by $400 million,” said Morris Peters, a spokesman for the state budget division.
The proposal will be a tough sell for the Democratic-dominated Assembly, given that most members come from the New York City area.
“We don't think cutting senior programs is a good thing and localities should have the flexibility they've always had,” said Mike Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.
Bobbie Sackman, director of public policy at LiveON NY, a senior citizen advocacy organization, said the Cuomo proposal would lead to a cut in the number of meals served to the city’s aging population as well as a reduction in services, including social activities, eviction assistance and help with health care.
“Imagine that one day 6,000 seniors across the city will wake up to learn their senior center is closed because the state budget was cut,” Sackman said. “They will be not only upset but very confused about why anybody would do that, so it’s disturbing that the governor’s office and the office of budget management would do this change to the budget language.”
The transfer of funding to child care services is particularly frustrating for advocates who say the move pits two basic services against each other.
Susan Stamler, executive director for United Neighborhood Houses, an organization which operates several settlement houses that provide a range of services including senior and child care, said the governor’s proposal will take away the city’s funding flexibility.
“It can be used for child care, senior services, it’s flexible," she said of the previous procedure. Now, she said, the governor is telling the city how it must use "these discretionary dollars" which could lead to a "hole" in the city's budget.
While the Cuomo administration says that it’s increasing total funding to New York City, the executive budget proposal has a few measures that would cut funding for the city.
For example, the state would cut $50 million in Medicaid funding from the city unless Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration comes up with a plan in the next five months to receive $100 million more in federal Medicaid dollars for preschool and school supportive health services.
The governor, who has feuded with de Blasio since 2015, also proposed cutting $11 million in state aid to the city's health department, arguing that the city is more readily able to access federal funds compared to the state's county governments.
The state’s proposal also is likely to complicate the City Council’s budget process.
Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who chairs the chamber's Committee for the Aging, said she’s already working to have the city include funds in the city's executive budget which de Blasio did not include in his preliminary financial plan.
Resnick said the city is working to have the language in the budget adjusted.
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