Schenectady County

Service agency fears loss of funding

A major provider of meals, adult day care and medical transportation to senior citizens in Schenecta

A major provider of meals, adult day care and medical transportation to senior citizens in Schenectady County is worried the county may reduce services because of its financial problems.

The county pays $1.1 million more toward these programs than is required under federal and state matching requirements; such programs are considered non-mandated but essential.

John Steele, executive director of the Catholic Charities of Schenectady County, shared his concerns during a public hearing Wednesday. Approximately 20 people attended, most of them representing service providers.

The Schenectady County Department of Senior and Long Term Care Services sponsored the hearing. The hearing is a federal and state requirement as part of the department’s development of its four-year service plan.

“You can see that the county is having fiscal issues. The concern I have as a major provider is cutbacks in funding for what we consider essential services,” Steele said. “The bottom line is, how do we protect services?”

Catholic Charities receives approximately $1 million under contracts with the county to provide congregate and home-delivered meals and transportation services, as well as other programs. Its allocation is nearly one-third of the $3.4 million the county proposes to spend this year for programs and services to assist the county’s large population of people aged 60 and older. That money is a combination of state, federal, local tax revenue and contributions from the nonprofit agencies.

Steele said the county’s allocation is the same amount it spent in 2007. Meanwhile, he said, Catholic Charities is not receiving an increase in county funding, despite seeing its fuel and food costs for its programs increase.

Steele said Catholic Charities actually had to reduce staff in 2007 because it lost $46,000 providing case management assistance to senior citizens under the county contract.

“We are doing more with less,” Steele said. “We have adapted to that loss and we are working with the county to find more efficient ways to provide essential services.”

Schenectady County officials said the county is facing a revenue shortfall of between $12 million and $16 million going into the 2009 budget process. They plan to review all programs and services, especially non-mandated services such as those provided to senior citizens and youths, to find ways to reduce costs and balance the budget without excessive tax increases. The county must adopt a budget by Nov. 1.

Paul Deierlein of the state Office for the Aging, who attended the public hearing, said counties must provide a 10 percent match to receive state and federal grants to operate senior citizen programs. Schenectady County, he said, receives state grants for senior citizen programs based on a strict formula.

Schenectady County exceeds the match, said Senior and Long Term Care Services Manager Cathryn Bern-Smith. She described the county as generous in its support of programs for senior citizens.

The county receives $1.4 million in state and federal funds. It spends $1.3 million on the programs. The remainder of the projected $3.4 million is overmatch and agency contributions.

Deierlein said while federal grants for senior citizen programs have remained flat, Gov. Eliot Spitzer is proposing to increase program funding in his Executive Budget. Both the state Senate and Assembly are presenting their own plans. The state must adopt a budget by April 1.

Deierlein said the state will not pick up the difference should Schenectady County cut back its funding to cover just the 10 percent match. “The state will not pick up the slack.”

Other speakers at Wednesday’s hearing said the county needs to hire additional staff to administer programs for senior citizens and needs to develop programs to assist senior citizens with mental health problems. Some praised the county plan for its comprehensiveness and its efforts to improve the lives of the county’s senior citizens.

Larry Czech, a senior citizen who is handicapped and lives in Schenectady County, did not attend the hearing but learned of it through media accounts. He said the county does not do a good enough job informing senior citizens about services available to them.

“One of my issues is that I know more about Fulton, Montgomery and Albany counties’ senior programs than I do about Schenectady’s,” Czech said.

He said the department’s name is “partially misleading. Other counties have offices for the aging, Schenectady has the department of senior and long term care services.”

The county merged its office for the aging with its senior and long-term care department several years ago.

“They need to do a better job of getting around and letting people know the services they offer,” Czech said.

Bern-Smith said the department is addressing the issue this year. The department added a link to the Schenectady County Web site. The Web site offers links to NY Connects, the state Office for the Aging and other counties.

Czech also criticized the location of Wednesday’s meeting, held in the County Office Building on State Street.

He said parking is difficult for handicapped people to find in the area and that the terrain is difficult for someone with a walker, which he has, to negotiate. Sidewalks leading to the county office building Wednesday still showed signs of the previous night’s winter storm, making foot travel hazardous.

Categories: Schenectady County

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