Budget Cuts Run Deep for the City's Seniors

Food and transportation programs eliminated as city makes tough choices

Lucy Reshetnik doesn't want Mayor Bloomberg to deprive her of her weekly trip to Pathmark.  Reshetnik and her neighbors depend on "the shopping bus" to take them to the market on Mondays and Wednesdays.  It's a transportation service funded by the borough presidents' discretionary funds, which Mayor Bloomberg has eliminated in his proposed budget.

"I can't walk up and down a hill," Reshetnik said.  "And to carry packages I'm like huffing and puffing."

That's where "the shopping bus" comes in.  But the bus may soon pull away -- permanently, as the cash-strapped city grapples with some tough budgetary choices.

The bus service is provided by the non-profit Community Agency for Senior Citizens, Inc., which transports elderly residents to the pharmacy, the grocery store, or the local senior center more than 70,000 times a year, according to program director Nikki Odlivak. 

 "We run a mini MTA system right here on Staten Island," Odlivak said.

If you don't believe her, hang out in front of the Pathmark on Forest Avenue for a while and you'll see the green vans coming and going all afternoon. 

Senior citizens pay $1 per ride, and the City pays the remainder of the cost.   Without the transportation services, elderly New Yorkers who have difficulty shopping and cooking on their own could end up homebound, receiving Meals on Wheels.  "I don't want to lose my independence," 86-year-old Virginia Lawless said.

The elimination of the shopping bus is just one way frail and elderly New Yorkers might lose access to food.

While young New Yorkers are deciding where to eat out on Saturday night, many elderly New Yorkers struggle to get through the weekend without going hungry.  For this reason, NYC has funded a "sixth meal" program in recent years, which offers seniors an extra meal to take home for the weekend.  

The rationale was that elderly people living on fixed incomes have trouble affording and preparing balanced meals for themselves during the weekends when their senior centers are closed.   "I have very poor eyesight and it's hard for me to cook.  This insures I have a hot meal on a Saturday," said Lillian Miller, during a 76th birthday celebration at the Cassidy Coles Senior Center on Staten Island.  

Lorraine Archibald prefers to save her "sixth meal" for Sunday.  " I don't cook anymore.  I have trouble with my legs.  If that meal goes, I'm gonna suffer more, cause I can't stand on stoves too long," Archibald said. 

The NYC Department for the Aging issued outlining the tough choices the agency faces.

 "The Department for the Aging, like all city agencies, was asked to reduce its budget as a result of the continued downturn in the economy," the statement said. " After careful consideration the agency decided to eliminate the congregate weekend meal also known as the 6th meal.  This program, which provides a “take-home” meal to be consumed over the weekend, has historically been underutilized.  Faced with difficult choices, the elimination of the congregate weekend meal represented the least onerous option and allows the agency to maintain core services, including senior centers, home delivered meals and case management."

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