In addition to millions of dollars slashed from city programs and initiatives tailored to older adults, the economic fallout from the pandemic has, in the words of Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee, “decimated in wholesale fashion” the more than $1.1 million in discretionary spending for the Department for the Aging (DFTA) typically facilitated through the borough presidents’ offices.
Nearly $300,000 of that funding, which has been eradicated for the new fiscal year, was allocated for Queens, the borough where one-third of the city’s senior population calls home.
“The challenge is greater than ever in recent memory to continue to serve our elders,” said Lee, “and making sure that they’re not left behind or abandoned.”
At the September meeting of the Queens Borough Cabinet, which took place last Tuesday, Jocelyn Groden, DFTA associate commissioner for Social Services & Direct Services, assured community board leaders the agency will continue to prioritize issues of food insecurity and social isolation among seniors.
“We have an essential purpose,” said Groden, “not only to connect older adults with services, but to make sure that they adjust to the realities of this difficult and often frightening environment in which they have been some of the most impacted.”
Since March, Groden says DFTA has been able to pivot almost all of its functions to formats that are accessible to seniors, including virtual and telephonic.
In order to further this effort, the agency distributed 10,000 tablets to older adults, mostly those living in NYCHA housing, as well as provided access to Wi-Fi for residents who needed it.
DFTA delivered 1.2 million meals to the homes of more than 40,000 seniors throughout the pandemic, doubling its serving capacity from 24,000 meals a day before the city went on lockdown to roughly 44,000.
Groden indicated the department believes that issues of nutrition and food insecurity will persist in the coming months.
Lee also pointed to concerns for homebound seniors who live independently when it comes to storm season stemming from the prolonged power outages experienced throughout Queens in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias.
She noted her office received calls from many older constituents who had risked exposure to COVID-19 in physically seeking assistance from their neighbors when lack of phone service rendered them unable to request help on their own.
Groden acknowledged that while DFTA works closely with the Office of Emergency Management, the pandemic has created “unique complexities” with regard to planning and response, insights she agreed to address with utilities officials.