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Social Services at Risk for Older New Yorkers

With a $9 billion deficit, a lot is riding on Nov. 2 election outcome








Protecting social ser­vices, making roadways safe for pedestrians and reforming the state's electricity marketplace are among the issues facing New York's older residents next year.

The fate of those issues may depend on the outcome of the Nov. 2 elections.

The governor's office, all 150 state Assembly and 62 state Senate seats are at stake. Currently Democrats — who outnumber registered Republicans statewide by about 2 to 1 — have a similar margin in the Assembly, and a two-seat margin in the Senate. Democrats also control the governor's office.

"A lot is at stake for seniors" in the election, said Michael Burgess, director of the New York State Office for the Aging. "We've done all we can do here in terms of cutting things back."

Judy Sloane knows something about those cutbacks.

About two years ago, Sloane started getting calls that her mother, then 90, was wandering from their Manhattan apartment. She found a day care program nearby for older adults who are frail or have dementia.

In July, funding for the New York City Department for the Aging program was eliminated, which meant Sloane, who left her job in January in part to care for her mother, had to pick up the $85 daily fee. The 66-year-old retired administrative assistant doesn't know how long she'll be able to manage.

"You have to be destitute for Medicaid, and she's not there yet," Sloane said of her mother. "We're squeezed in the middle."

With New York facing a $9 billion deficit, social service agencies are also feeling the squeeze, even though programs to keep older people living at home have been shown to save money in the long run because they are cheaper than nursing homes.

One of AARP New York's top legislative priorities next year is to increase spending on home- and community-based care, which includes services like adult day care, meal deliveries, transportation and assistance for family caregivers.

"We don't think the state sufficiently funds programs that assist caregivers," said AARP New York legislative representative Bill Ferris.

AARP New York also wants to maintain current spending for EPIC, the state prescription drug benefit, which pays for drugs Medicare Part D doesn't cover. And it's supporting a drive to link eligible state residents to community food programs and federal food assistance. An estimated one in four older New Yorkers living at home is at risk for hunger.

Other priorities include:

  • Adopt a "complete streets" law that would require including the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians in planning any publicly funded transportation project.
  • Require new publicly financed housing of three or fewer units to incorporate universal design, including barrier-free features and a first-floor bathroom to accommodate older people or people with disabilities.
  • Reform the state's electricity marketplace, which has the second-highest rates in the continental United States.

These ambitious goals come at a time when voters are expressing record dissatisfaction with Albany. Polls show about half of registered voters think even their own state senator and assembly member should be booted out of office.

Democratic spokesman Eric Blankenbaker said the party has more money on hand than in 2008 and is poised to expand its majority in the state Senate. GOP spokesman Scott Reif said this year's anti-incumbent mood means "the energy is on the Republican side."

For more information about the election, see the AARP New York voters' guide.

Ann Levin is a freelance writer living in New York City.