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Meals for Queens elderly could face cuts: Gotbaum

A critical lifeline to the homebound elderly could be cut if a city plan to reduce Meals on Wheels deliveries in the Bronx to once or twice a week for some people is extended to Queens, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum warned seniors at the Little Neck Y Sunday.

Gotbaum spoke at the Northeast Queens Jewish Community Council’s legislative breakfast, where lawmakers from the area pledged to support prescription drug and adult day care programs for the many senior citizens in their districts.

Gotbaum said that starting in July, an experimental one-year program in the Bronx would cut Meals on Wheels food deliveries in some cases to once a week. The program currently brings hot food to homebound seniors every day.

The city Department for the Aging’s Web site said even if deliveries of frozen meals are substituted for some hot meals, the total number of meals given to seniors would remain the same.

The city expected to save $8 million in the Bronx switch to weekly frozen deliveries, said Gotbaum, a sum she called “ridiculous” in light of the city’s $46 billion budget.

“It is something we need to stop,” Gotbaum said. If the cost-saving program is deemed a success, “I worry what will happen here in Queens.”

Gotbaum said the city’s shift to frozen food would make it difficult for some people to heat up their meals. But most importantly, she said people who deliver food daily can find seniors who have fallen and hurt themselves.

“(Seniors) rely on the daily contact of this worker to prevent them from getting into despair” or sickness, Gotbaum said.

“To hurt these people who are homebound is wrong.”

In a statement on the Department for the Aging’s Web site, Commissioner Edwin Mendez-Santiago said “such misinformation alarms seniors and causes unnecessary worry...we will achieve cost-savings through productivity — not a reduction in service.”

Seniors who must have daily hot meals delivered “due to physical or environmental factors” will not have to switch to frozen fare, the Web site said. Organizations looking to participate in the Bronx pilot program must have the capacity to deliver hot meals daily to up to 70 percent of homebound clients, with local social service agencies determining which seniors can make the switch.

An agency spokeswoman said the frozen deliveries would be made once or twice a week.

Prior to the public advocate’s arrival, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens), state Sens. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), Assemblymen Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck) and Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) and Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) told the seniors at the Y about their efforts to help seniors with health care funding and day programs.

“It’s not a state issue. It’s not a local issue. It’s a national issue,” said Weiner, describing how the recently passed Medicare prescription drug coverage bill “got every single thing wrong” by ignoring cost controls.

Padavan said the state prescription drug program, EPIC, was funded at $800 million a year.

Padavan and Assemblyman Mark Weprin stressed the importance of keeping seniors in their homes with community-based services such as the adult day care programs at the Little Neck Y.

Stavisky said she had introduced legislation capping the percentage of a senior’s income that could be spent on prescription drugs.

Said Weprin: “We will continue this fight.”

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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