After touring Selfhelp's Benjamin Rosenthal Prince Street Innovative Senior Center, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a member of the Special Committee on Aging, and Assemblywoman Grace Meng today urged Congress to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, major legislation which provides critical in-home care, nutrition, technology training, housing, transportation and social services programs for seniors. In Queens, there are approximately 402,000 seniors and an estimated 137,000 people who will reach the age of 60 over the next five years.
With federal programs across the board, including some senior programs, at-risk of facing automatic cuts in 2013, also known as sequestration, if Congress does not reach a balanced deficit reduction plan by the end of this year, Senator Gillibrand called for passage of the Older Americans Act that she co-sponsored last month, which would fund senior programs over the next five years. Senator Gillibrand also emphasized that Congressional members from both parties must come together to work towards an alternative to sequestration.
"We must be better prepared for when our seniors reach retirement," said Senator Gillibrand. "From opportunities to continue living independently, to access to better nutrition, to empowering our seniors with better financial literacy and protecting them from abuse, these are the priorities I will be fighting for. Cutting spending shouldn't mean turning our backs on our Queens seniors. I will work with my colleagues to protect critical programs for older New Yorkers."
"With some ten thousand baby boomers retiring each day in our country, we must make sure we are equipped to handle our aging population," said Assemblywoman Meng. "Our seniors have given too much to this country for our government to turn its back on them in their golden years. That's why Senator Gillibrand and I are committed to ensuring the critical care and 21st century technology training programs are not played as bargaining chips in Washington as Congress works to balance the books."
"Aging New Yorkers are becoming increasingly tech savvy and eager to participate in social and physical activities geared towards improving their daily lives and enabling them to age in place in their communities," said Stuart C. Kaplan, CEO of Selfhelp Community Services. "Selfhelp's Benjamin Rosenthal Prince Street Innovative Senior Center exemplifies the rich heritage and cultural diversity here in Flushing, Queens. Our membership embraces the technology training, nutrition, and wellness programming we offer. In addition, Selfhelp is proudly building nearby affordable housing with the latest in high tech amenities, and will begin occupancy this January. Through our senior center programming, augmented by technology for homebound seniors, Selfhelp is on the cutting edge of congregate senior programming. Such tools and programs have the potential to change the face of aging here and across the country as well. We are pleased to host Senator Gillibrand and provide a forum or her advocacy on behalf of elderly New Yorkers."
Selfhelp's cutting edge center for older adults located in Flushing uses technology and offers multi-lingual computer learning classes, telehealth kiosks to help seniors monitor their own health, and has the Selfhelp-developed Virtual Senior Center programming that enables homebound seniors to participate (from their own homes) in senior center classes, to socialize with other members and take part in other community activities through Selfhelp's specially developed software and the Internet. The Virtual Senior Center initiative was originally developed as a public private partnership with Selfhelp, Microsoft, the NYC Department for the Aging and NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. It is supported by the UJA-Federation of New York, The Consumer Electronics Association Foundation and other grants.
GILLIBRAND PRIORITIES FOR THE OLDER AMERICANS ACT
Strengthening Technology & Financial Literacy
To empower seniors with better proficiency in technology, Senator Gillibrand pushed for more computer training opportunities based on best-practices, and development of a web-based data reporting and analysis system to track the system's effectiveness, and eliminate waste. Past technology language in the OAA has been inadequate to serve the intense demand for computer training. Senator Gillibrand's amendment would help improve alignment with current needs and program models. The bill would update language in the OAA bill to reflect current best practices among nonprofit technology services providers.
Senator Gillibrand also advocated for measures to empower seniors with better financial literacy to help strengthen their retirement plans, and protect themselves for marketing scams that target seniors. The Senator's bill requests that the National Resource Center for Women and Retirement be permanently included in the Older Americans Act with the other funded resource centers. The National Resource Center for Women and Retirement focuses on helping older persons avoid financial exploitation, poverty and dependence on government programs later in life.
Improving Opportunities to Age In Place
By living independently in their homes, seniors are more likely to remain active, and live longer, healthier lives, and taxpayers save money by relying less on costly nursing homes. In fact, keeping more seniors in their homes and out of nursing homes could save New York taxpayers upwards of $70 million each year.
As part of the Older Americans Act, Senator Gillibrand worked to increase the amount of funding states receive for community based supportive services. States use funding through the community based supportive services title to assist seniors with in-home health services, transportation, and support for home renovations to help keep seniors in their own homes longer. Currently, the community based supportive services title only receives $367 million each year. Given the increase of baby boomers, Senator Gillibrand requested an additional $450 million yearly to address the needs of seniors.
And as seniors rely more on public transportation, Senator Gillibrand worked to include more senior-friendly transportation options by including the Senior Transportation and Mobility Improvement Act as part of the Older Americans Act. The legislation would strengthen existing public transit programs for seniors and people with disabilities by giving states flexibility to use federal funding for senior-friendly transportation. The bill also provides grants for innovative community programs, and would establish a mobility management program for older adults and people with disabilities.
Nine percent of older Americans live under the poverty line, and nearly 8 percent of households with seniors are considered food insecure, according to a 2010 report from the USDA and the Census Bureau. In New York alone, nearly 20 percent of seniors live in poverty -- double the national average.
Senator Gillibrand worked to increase access to nutrition and meal services at senior and community centers, and expand access to home delivery meal services. According to research from the Nutrition Consortium of New York State, every dollar spent on nutrition for seniors translates to $3.25 in health care savings, by keeping seniors healthy and out of the hospital.
Preventing Elder Abuse
Older Americans are among the most vulnerable to violence and abuse. Nearly 8 percent of New York seniors reported being victims of abuse, according to one study commissioned by the Office of Children and Family Services. The same study found that less than 1 percent of seniors officially report instances of abuse.
To protect more seniors from abuse, Senator Gillibrand increased investments in elder abuse prevention services under the Older Americans Act, and is supporting additional legislation, the Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act, to implement a comprehensive network of prevention and response measures.