Over 100 Seniors, Advocates Rally for Increased Funding to Queens Senior Centers

By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]

Sunnyside Community Services seniors. Credit: Celia Bernhardt

Senior advocacy organization LiveOn gathered with over 100 older adults at Queens Borough Hall on Wednesday, March 6 to rally in support of increased funding for aging services across the city and state and denounce the Adams administration’s proposal of $18 million in cuts to over 300 Older Adult Centers throughout the city. 

The gathering took place ahead of the City Council’s Committee on Aging’s preliminary budget hearing on March 8, where advocates and seniors shared testimonies against the proposed cuts. 

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Assemblymember Steven Raga and a representative of Councilmember Shekar Krishnan were present at the gathering, along with

Queens Community House, Sunnyside Community Services, Alpha Phi Alpha, Allen AME, India Home Inc., and other older adult centers. Seniors in the crowd represented their centers with pride on their t-shirts, some carrying signs with their demands. 

Associate Executive Director of Older Adult Services at Queens Community House Anne Foerg was among the speakers in the atrium. Foerg elaborated on the challenges facing service providers, reminding the crowd that the total senior population has seen a significant expansion across the country. At Queens Community House, she explained, recent contracts from the city have resulted in an increase in caseloads and a stagnant salary for support staff that hasn’t kept pace with inflation, leading to difficulty retaining qualified employees. 

“The intensity of older adults’ needs are also increasing,” Foerg said. “Retirement incomes aren’t keeping pace with cost of living. The adult children of many older adults are leaving the city to find a better quality of life, and that means our older adult neighbors are losing a very important part of their support network.”

Foerg called for an investment of $20 million from the city, which was met with resounding cheers from the room. 

“We know every human being deserves dignity from birth to death,” Foerg continued. “And that’s why we raise our voices today for older adults, just as we have to remember they have raised their voices for us throughout the entire course of their lifetime. They deserve more, not less.”

The crowd broke into chants of “we want more!” before the borough president took the stage. 

“I want to thank each and every one of you because as the borough president, I stand on your shoulders,” Richards said. “Many of you who have sacrificed to pave the way for me to be here, whether you know it or not. If you didn’t know, now you know.”

Members of senior centers also delivered speeches; Usha Mehta of India Home Inc. spoke about how the center impacted her life. 

“During COVID, it was so rough, but it was India Home who took care of us and provided us with each and every need. India Home staff called us every day to ask ‘how are you doing?’ That was what we got and that kept us alive,” Mehta said. “But to give these services, what do you need? Funding.”

84-year-old Rosemary Whaley, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, said it was important for her to come out to the rally. “It’s good to find out who’s going to support the senior centers and how we can get more money” she said. 

“Right now, we’re kind of hurting for certain things, especially transportation, because they took it away from us right before Christmas,” Whaley said, referencing transportation provider Cathay’s sudden reduction in services to the Alpha Phi Alpha center.

Whaley explained how crucial it is for her and her friends to access the center. 

“A lot of us, even if we have people at home, they don’t give us the attention that we really need,” Whaley said. “And just being there with people our own age, we know what we need, we know how to support each other. We can laugh, we can joke, we can get sick of each other, and that’s okay because that’s part of life.”

 

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