Food insecurity in the U.S. looks like this: having to choose between food and rent, food and the electricity bill, and food and any other living expense.The elderly are especially vulnerable to this, partially because of issues of physical mobility. New York City government is currently negotiating how to fund food budgets that help keep the elderly feed. Turns out, it’s not so easy figuring out how to do this.
HOST INTRO: Senior Centers are a lifeline for many elderly men and women in New York City. A place where they can socialize and get a hot meal. But the centers’ resources are limited and they often have to turn people away. City officials are hoping to solve this problem. Reporter Cynthia Betubiza has more.
BETUBIZA : It’s a windy, grey, snow-slushy day in the Bronx. Inside the East Concourse Neighborhood Senior Center, people are sipping coffee and tea, chatting, and playing pool.
Laurent Lewis is a 72-year-old retired nurse from Puerto Rico who’s been coming to this senior center for the past 8 years.
Like many at the center, she comes for more than just socializing.
LEWIS: “In the morning, you might grab a cup of coffee, and then we have lunch. In the afternoon, they will serve some sort of a snack.
BETUBIZA : Today she was one of the lucky ones. Like most days, there are more people wanting a meal than the center has the capacity to serve.
RIVERA : “We’re only contracted to serve about 60 to 80 people daily. So when we reach that amount. That’s it. We gotta say no to people. Which is unfortunate for an 80-year-old who has nothing and no one.
BETUBIZA : That’s Cristina Rivera, the Program Specialist at the center. She manages the food budget at East Concourse. She says turning the elderly away puts them especially at risk.
RIVERA: Food insecurity, it’s really hard. I just feel bad really bad sometimes denying them services and it breaks me, it does.
BETUBIZA: Joel Berg is the CEO of Hunger Free America. He says that more than 10 percent of older New Yorkers suffer from food insecurity. Sometimes, they have to pick between their next meal and paying the bills.
BERG: There are significant pockets of poverty among older Americans and at least for some older Americans who have reduced mobility, it’s harder for them to physically access the food.
BETUBIZA: That’s why he’s concerned about the funding levels for the meal programs at centers like East Concourse. He’s not the only one. Last week, the City Council held hearings on senior center food budgets.
Margaret Chin is the Chair of the New York City Council Committee on Aging. In the hearing, she noted that the city’s funding for the food program hadn’t been raised since fiscal year 2015.
CHIN: Cost of living. I mean, food prices go up. I think that’s where the urgency is. Centers are hurting, they need the relief as quickly as possible.
BETUBIZA: Tara Klein is a Policy Analyst for the group United Neighborhood Houses. Speaking at the hearing, she said that senior centers are going into debt because they want to feed as many people as they can.
KLEIN: Organizations will often incur deficits to meet the needs of their communities and ensure seniors receive meals. One UNH member has said that they are contracted to provide 65 daily lunches at their center but regularly provide over 90 due to increased attendance.
BETUBIZA: At the end of the hearing, Caryn Resnick, Acting Commissioner of the Department for the Aging, said her department will continue to look into the issues.
RESNICK As we discussed, we’re happy to have that conversation with you offline and we’ll do a little more analysis about those programs.
BETUBIZA: Chairwoman Chin then closed out the hearing.
RESNICK: Happy to respond. Thank you, I appreciate our partnership.
CHIN: We do, too. We just want to be loud and clear this year that we’re not going to take anything less.
BETUBIZA: In the meantime, the Department for the Aging will continue working on their draft budget. After that, they’ll present it to City Council for another review.
Cynthia Betubiza, Columbia Radio News.