SARATOGA SPRINGS — Senior citizens want to be able to get around town even if they can't drive, remain in their homes as they age and have good health care, according to seniors and elected officials who spoke Monday at a public forum.
State, county and city officials outlined services available for area seniors, while U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, decried Republican proposals to cut funding for social services programs that benefit older residents.
"I hear from all corners of my district, 'I can't afford to live in my home anymore,'" Tonko said during the senior issues forum, sponsored by the Mayor's Senior Advisory Committee. "Cutting housing (funds) by $6 billion is vulgar, and ending the Older Americans Act is unkind."
About 70 senior citizens and others attended the two-hour forum at Empire State College, at which elected officials — Democrats and Republicans and/or their representatives — spoke about the issues they believe matter to seniors.
"We need the infrastructure for bikes and buses and wheelchairs, and we cannot do that alone, so I'm glad the congressman is here," said Mayor Joanne Yepsen, another of the panelists.
County Supervisor Peter Martin, who represents the city on the county Board of Supervisors and is running in the fall for the city's public safety commissioner post, said the city works closely with the Capital District Transportation Authority on accessibility issues, including establishing bus stops that allow buses to pull directly to the curb. "Our goal is to expand that, make more routes, and in particular more frequency on routes," Martin said.
Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen said this year's city budget includes money for improving 11 crosswalks, including two on lower Union Avenue. He acknowledged a need to improve some sidewalks to make them easier for motorized wheelchairs to negotiate.
Tonko said more federal money is needed for mass transit programs. "We don't need to see cuts. We've had cuts. They've been draconian," he said. "We need investment."
On the housing issue, city officials noted that a planned 110-unit apartment project on South Broadway and a 180-unit apartment project at Washington Street and West Avenue are both planned as mixed-income housing, open to seniors. They also responded to common criticism that Saratoga Springs housing has become unaffordable for many, an issue Yepsen and Mathiesen said the city is trying to address.
"We can't support our senior citizens, and we can't support our workforce, either," Yepsen said.
John Safford, a city Republican running for county supervisor this year, said the forum focused too much on government programs and not enough on people voluntarily helping each other.
"Everything I hear is about how we need more money," said Safford, who lost a bid for mayor in 2015. "We can do more things for each other. It's not the government that solves our problems; we do."
Matthew Veitch, the city's other representative on the county board, said the county Office for the Aging has a number of services available to assist senior citizens meet the burdens of maintaining a home; seniors only need to contact the office about their problems, he said.
On health care, Adam Kramer, chief of staff to state Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, said Tedisco strongly supports the state's Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Program (EPIC) and would like to see it extended to cover dental insurance.
"It's something he will be pushing for in the new year," Kramer said.
Those who attended the forum were asked to write down questions about their greatest worries. For example: running out of money, becoming a burden to others, finding help for housekeeping, lawn mowing or snow removal.
The information will be used by the Mayor's Senior Advisory Committee as it considers recommendations to the City Council.