New York City Council Joint Hearing
Committee on Aging, Chair, Council Member Chin
Subcommittee on Senior Centers, Chair, Council Member Vallone
December 14, 2017
Oversight: Seniors’ Access to Nutritional and Culturally Competent Congregate and Home Delivered Meals
LiveOn NY thanks Chair of the Committee on Aging, Council Member Margaret Chin, and Chair of the Subcommittee on Senior Centers, Council Member Paul Vallone, as well as the rest of the committee for holding this important hearing.
LiveOn NY also thanks Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Mark-Viverito, Finance Chair Ferreras-Copeland, Aging Chair Chin and Department for the Aging Commissioner Corrado for the critical investment of an additional $1.2 million in baselined funding for congregate, home-delivered and weekend meals during last year’s funding increases associated with the “Year of the Senior” campaign.
At inception, senior centers, borne out of the Older American’s Act, were aimed at providing nutritional services so often lacking for seniors throughout the United States. Today, this model has expanded to include services that support a senior’s overall health and wellbeing, such as fitness classes, cultural outings and art programs. What has not changed, however, is the value associated with congregate meals for the lives of thousands of older New Yorkers each year.
For many New Yorkers, food insecurity remains a harsh reality of daily life. With 250 million meals needed to reach food security for all, and seniors making up an estimated 19% of the city’s population, the demand for nutrition services among seniors remains significant. This is highlighted by the fact that 1 in 6 seniors struggles with hunger in the U.S. For older adults, inadequate nutrition can exacerbate existing conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis. Further, it has been found that the risk of hunger is not equal among all populations, as seniors with disabilities, African Americans, and other minorities are more at risk of hunger.
Both home-delivered meals and congregate meals combat more than just the strains of food insecurity among seniors. For example, congregate meals offered by senior centers offers not only a nutritious meal but an opportunity for socialization with peers. This socialization improves lives, as isolation has been found to be a greater predictor of morbidity than obesity. Further, attended by nearly 30,000 seniors daily, senior centers provide critical nutrition services for seniors of all backgrounds, language capacities, religions, and socioeconomic status.
The benefits of home-delivered meals have been well documented after years of programmatic success. Meals on Wheels of America found that 92% of seniors say home-delivered meals enables them to remain in their homes. Given the cost of nursing home use, the ability for home-delivered meals to facilitate the aging in place model should be seen as a cost-savings mechanism for the city. Further, 81% of seniors stated that home-delivered meals improve their overall health and 90% agree that the program makes them feel more safe and secure. The majority of seniors utilizing the program tend to be women, living alone, receiving meals that on average account for ½ or more of their total food for the day.
Given these statistics, we must continue to ensure the programmatic success of both home-delivered and congregate meals by both modernizing and contextualizing the programs.
Contextually, the makeup of older adults in New York City has changed in recent years and will continue to evolve in the years to come. As of 2015, almost 50% of older New Yorkers were foreign born, reflecting a significant need for meals that are culturally appropriate to an array of backgrounds. Further, diversity of religious and health requirements also impacts the variety and associated cost of the meals providers must serve. According to DFTA’s senior center standards, providers must offer menus that “are appropriate to participants’ cultural backgrounds”. This requirement brings a fiscal implication: for example, in 2015, DFTA stated that, “in DFTA’s HDML network, each catered Kosher [meal] is on average $1.38 more than non-Kosher catered meals.” Similar to Kosher meals, Halaal, gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, or other consumer demands have an associated cost-increase.
LiveOn NY advocates that the city fully reimburse providers for all types of meals and support provider’s efforts to serve culturally appropriate meal variations as needed.
Further, LiveOn NY believes that the city must modernize the structure of cost per meal reimbursements to one that consistently reflects rising food costs such as ingredients and labor. From 2008-2013 alone, the cost of food increased by 11% according to the Consumer Price Index. As inflation continues to rise, a system must be put in place to automatically reimburse providers for the full cost of each meal, rather than reimbursing at a consistently insufficient rate. Currently, this lack of adequate reimbursement forces providers to subsidize all meal contracts, a practice that is exacerbating the system’s ability to make ends meet. Additionally, senior center and home delivered meal contracts should be fully funded in terms of the cost of administrative and overhead costs associated with a contract. This change would enable providers to deliver high quality services to older adults as a result of full funding.
These recommendations are supported by the findings from LiveOn NY’s recently held membership convening entitled Senior Centers: Visions and Priorities for the Future. Here, 80 individuals from LiveOn NY member organizations engaged in thoughtful and productive conversation discussing priorities and their vision for how to serve older adults today and in the future. What we found was that members overwhelmingly identified "enhanced nutrition capabilities" as one of the top five collective priorities when looking at their vision for the future. Discussions around this issue included increasing their ability to offer high quality and more variety nutrition options to best serve their communities. LiveOn NY is continuing to compile the incredible ideas and information discussed at the event which will be shared more broadly with Council and the Administration in the future.
LiveOn NY looks forward to working with NYC City Council and the administration to implement policy and secure funding to bolster this critically important program for seniors in every community.
 Food Bank for York City, 2014
 Department for the Aging, Annual Plan Summary, 2019
 Meals on Wheels of America, 2017
 Center for an Urban Future, 2017