Patricia Feil, Ann Grigano, Marie DiBenedetto and Emily Hartwig at the legislative meeting on Oct. 6.
Photo by Jaime L. Tomeo
Senior citizens arrived at the Nassau County Legislature meeting by the busloads on Oct. 6 to protest flat-funding senior programs in the proposed 2009 county budget.
Residents from four senior centers - Seaford, Massapequa Park, Franklin Square and Oceanside - addressed concerns over what no increase in funding would do to their programs. Anyone over the age of 60 can attend these senior centers, which Nassau County contracts Catholic Charities to operate.
"We want legislators to know they [the seniors] are concerned and they don't want anymore cuts," Linda Pellicane, program coordinator for Senior Services at Catholic Charities said.
"It's not fair," added 25-year Massapequa resident Dorothy Ciraulo. "They [seniors] paid all their taxes when they were younger and they don't deserve this."
Director of Senior Services Eileen M. Verity explained the agency does not charge seniors for their services, which means Catholic Charities must make up the difference. This translates to longer wait-lists for programs and services.
"Any wait for a frail senior is just too long," Verity said.
Verity estimates a $125,000 added expense this year "when you look at food and fuel costs."
"That $125,000 cost only covers for that exact same number of seniors it was serving in 2008," Verity added. "We guesstimate a 3 percent increase for this year and that is being modest."
According to Communications Specialist Umberto Mignardi, Catholic Charities serves about 3,800 seniors through their senior center, Meals on Wheels and Senior Case Management programs.
"Then we serve another 15,000 seniors through our commodity supplemental food program," he added. "We expect to see at least another 200 seniors seeking services through centers and case management but they will likely be wait-listed as things now stand."
Director of Development and Communication Scott Stepp acknowledged these programs have already been underfunded for years.
"We are already in a $420,000 deficit this year and that will increase," he added.
Verity addressed members of the Nassau County Legislature by reading a statement. "I'm here to tell you seniors matter and they are valuable members of the community," she said.
Legislator Roger Corbin (D-Westbury) was the first to respond. He said he agreed with Verity, however the answer is difficult. Corbin said for there to be enough money for everything, the county would need to raise taxes, but then "people get upset."
Legislator John Ciotti (R,C-North Valley Stream) said he "respectfully disagreed" with Corbin and said the legislature needs to "take a hard look at overspending in the budget in various departments."
"It seems that every year when the budget comes up two groups get hurt - seniors and youth," he added. "What we need to do is surgically look at what is going on with this administration and we can find the money."
Legislator Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) blamed the current administration for not finding money in the existing budget and rather raising taxes.
Legislator Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) apologized to the audience, saying political bickering among legislators wasn't necessary.
"You want money for your agency and responsible legislators need to find that money," he added.
Presiding Officer Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove) later told Anton Community Newspapers, "We listened intently to the seniors who spoke at last Monday's session. We are still reviewing the proposed 2009 budget and will take into consideration the views of the seniors who spoke as we continue through the review process."
Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi submitted the proposed 2009 budget, which includes a 3.9 percent county property tax increase, to the Nassau County legislature on Sept. 19. The legislature must vote on the budget by Oct. 30.
The Legislature's Health & Human Services Committee offered the following evaluation of the 2009 proposed budget on Oct. 2: "Total expenditures are increasing by $1.6 million or 8.4 percent compared to the Fiscal Year '08 budget. The growth is mostly attributed to contractual services, increasing due to supplemental cost of living adjustments from New York State for contracted agencies. In the past these cost of living increases for contracted programs were added to the budget as supplemental appropriation. FY '09 is the first year a projected increase is built into the proposed budget. The remaining $500,000 increase is due to four grants that were transferred from the Grant Fund to the General Fund. In the past, the County mandated a 10 percent 'good faith' match from contracted agencies. This match was removed in FY '08 from all programs except for the Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly Program (EISEP) for case management services. In FY '09 the 10 percent match remains only on the EISEP program."
Catholic Charities also operates the Meals on Wheels program for homebound seniors, Caregivers Support and EISEP Case Management. For more information visit www.catholiccharities.cc.