Senior Center Meals Model Budget Hearing

LiveOn NY testimony provided for the record:

New York City Council
Committee on Aging
Chair, Council Member Margaret Chin
February 27, 2019
Senior Center Meals Model Budget Hearing

LiveOn NY is a nonprofit membership organization representing 100 community-based organizations that serve over 300,000 older New Yorkers annually through senior centers, congregate and home-delivered meals, NORCs, affordable senior housing, elder abuse prevention services, caregiver supports, transportation and case management. Thank you Chair Chin and the Aging Committee for the opportunity to testify.

LiveOn NY is encouraged are encouraged the recent initial investments in senior centers, which are the core of strong communities.  We also recognize and are encouraged by the joint work between the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and DFTA examining the senior center meals system. 


That said, as it stands the overall DFTA budget accounts for less than 1% of the total city budget, a point that is only exacerbated by the fact aging New Yorkers are the now fastest growing demographic.  Further, New York City spends 20% below the national average on senior meals – that means they are only paying for 4 out of every 5 needed meals.  This does not reflect fairness for older New Yorkers, senior center kitchen staff or the nonprofits that serve older New Yorkers. In order for New York to truly be the fairest big city, it must be a #FairCity4AllAges.

FY19 “Model Senior Center” Budgets

In FY19 DFTA undertook a model senior center analysis and distributed $10 million for “model senior center” budgets late in the fiscal year.  Providers were not able to allocate this funding for meals or meal staff.  Of note: 

  • 249 senior centers were included the “model senior center budget” analysis.

  • 26 out of the 249 received no funding because they were deemed at or above the “model” amount.

  • For the 223 centers that did get funding, it was to be directed in two areas: direct staffing and consultants.Direct Staffing” does not include kitchen or meal staff, which has caused salary disparity among programs. The funding could not be used for meal costs either, or other expenses to run a kitchen.

  • 38 additional programs were not evaluated in the “model senior center” budget process, and thus received no funding.  In that group are former discretionary funded sites that are now under DFTA (11 centers), former NYCHA (4 centers), “social clubs” (17) and other social service programs (6). Many, if not all, of the sties not evaluated in the “model senior center” budget process are held to the same standards as the sites that were evaluated, yet were not given funding as the others were. The appropriateness of this decision must be evaluated and reconciled moving forward.

  • In addition to this baselined $10 million distributed late in FY19, the city has promised an additional $10 million “by 2021” through this “Model Senior Center Budget” process.

The Importance of NYC Senior Center Meals

  • Senior centers provided 7.6 million senior center meals in FY17.[i]

  • 56% of seniors report that meals eaten at the center make up ½ or more of their daily food intake and nutrients for the day from these meals.[ii]

  • 13.6% of New Yorkers over the age of 60 lived in food insecure households and that number is rising.

  • Seniors are underenrolled in SNAP - among those living with hunger, the under-enrollment rate of SNAP benefits is around 40%. 

  • Meals also offer socialization and improve lives, as isolation has been found to be a greater predictor of morbidity than obesity and provide critical nutrition services for seniors of all backgrounds, language capacities, religions, and socioeconomic status.

The importance of NYC Home Delivered Meals

  • This year, providers will distribute over 4.6 million home delivered meals.

  • 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.

  • Nationally, 59% of meal recipients live alone – and the person delivering the meal is often the only person they will see that day.[iii]

  • Home delivered meals are critical for supporting older adults to age independently.


Challenges for the System

  • Inadequate funding for Staffing: Despite congregate meals being core to the spirit of the Older Americans Act, senior center kitchens citywide are far understaffed across the board and often must rely on volunteers to perform core functions to sustain the program.  Further, salaries and funding are not commensurate with the numerous responsibilities required to run a kitchen including food preparation, cooking, serving meals, menu planning and submissions, inventory, ordering, accounting, managing volunteers and numerous other responsibilities required to operate a kitchen. Kitchen staff are critical to the senior center and were excluded in the model budget funding last year.

  • Underfunding of Raw Food Costs: Based on data from FY17, NYC paid nonprofits for senior and home delivered meals at a rate 20% below the national average.  Specifically, for congregate meals, DFTA reimbursed providers on the average at $9.06 compared to the 2015 national average rate of $10.69.  For home delivered meals, DFTA reimbursed providers on the average $8.24 compared to the national average rate of about $11.06.  This means the city is paying for only 4 out of every 5 meals.  From 2008-2013 alone, the cost of food increased by 11% according to the Consumer Price Index, however the nonprofits struggle to keep pace with food and service costs and what NYC is below the national average in what it pays to feed hungry seniors.

  • Inadequate Funding for Culturally Competent Meals: Further, almost 50% of older New Yorkers are foreign born according to a recent Center for an Urban Future study, reflecting a significant need for meals that are culturally appropriate to an array of backgrounds. Providers are required, not to mention eager, to offer menus that are culturally appropriate and nutritious, but do not have adequate funding to do so as this requirement brings a fiscal implication: 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 cultural or nutritional needs have an associated cost-increase.

  • There is no set funding for upgrades for equipment and other repairs for critical kitchen equipment including overs, refrigerators and HVAC systems. Because of the lack of process, certainty, and funding about whether requests for repairs or upgrades will even be responded to or entertained, centers typically purchase or upgrade equipment only when something breaks.  This is disruptive to service delivery, particularly in the kitchen and is inefficient and preventable.  These costs and needs are heightened in NYCHA senior centers and programs, which have critical additional infrastructure and repair needs.

  • There is no baselined funding in contracts to meet minimal health and safety standards for senior centers.  Many inspections and services are required annually or several times a year, including extermination, grease trap cleaning and grease removal, hood cleaning, fire suppression systems, maintenance of HVAC systems and refrigerators and freezers.  Providers have also reported that annual deep power cleanings of kitchens are necessary to prevent against rodent infestations.  Other expenses include sewage back up problems and security alarm service and maintenance.  While there may be some very small amounts in budgets under “Other Occupancy” costs, these routine annual expenses are estimated at well over $10,000 a year, and providers do not have anywhere close to this in their budgets, even though they are required and routine.  



  1. Add at least $20 million in baselined funding to DFTA for congregate meals.  This funding will increase meal costs closer to the national average, increase funding for providers to appropriately pay and staff their kitchens and add funding for the costs for equipment and services required to safely operate a kitchen.  This funding is needed immediately since kitchern staff were specifically excluded from the model budget funding for senior centers last year.

  2. Add at least $15 million in baselined funding to DFTA for home delivered meals.  This funding will increase meal costs closer to the national average, increase funding for providers to appropriately pay and staff and service needs, as well as address increased need as the population increases.  We recognize that DFTA, thanks to the Council’s support, added $2.84 million in FY 2019 for home delivered meals, however this funding was not baselined and was one time funding.

  3. No PEGs for DFTA.  Across the board reductions through the recently announced Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) disproportionally and unfairly affect small agencies, such as DFTA, which receives such a small portion of the city budget to begin with. To avoid cutting direct services to older New Yorkers and the staff that serve them, DFTA should not be subject to PEGs.

  4. Expedite the additional $10 million promised for senior centers immediately. Allocating these funds quickly is integral to meeting current need and to ensuring that all programs can compete in the coming RFP, projected to be released in calendar year 2020. Given the decades of underfunding, the need for this increased funding among non-profit providers is both urgent and immediate. We see no reason for the city to hold this funding.  It should be expedited as soon as possible.

  5. Evaluate and fund senior center programs that were excluded from the Model Senior Center budget process. If the purpose was to rightsize contracts and provide a more equal playing field for centers in anticipation of the next RFP, all applicable senior center programs should be included in this process and given the opportunity to secure funds needed to run a quality Senior Center. DFTA, OMB and the Council should discuss next steps to address the 38 programs not included in the initial process.  Further, all DFTA programs, including these 38 programs, should be included in any meal funding analysis.

  6. Engage Providers in the city’s efforts to address senior hunger.   Both DFTA and OMB have referenced that the city is in the process of conducting a meals study which will advise them on next steps and new funding specifications for senior meal programs.  We recognize DFTA’s initial steps on provider engagement have begun, which are appreciated.  However, there is no clear indication of timing, focus, or provider engagement specifically around home delivered meals. This has understandably caused great angst in the senior service network. We strongly urge the city to engage providers in this process as soon as possible to construct a meaningful and transparent process for both congregate and home delivered meals, as both RFPs are to be released in the near future.

  7. Fully fund city contracts. The $10 million allocated to senior centers late last year was greatly appreciated as an important first step. That said, the city needs to fully fund contracts that are representative of the costs to run a center, including meals/meal preparation, meal staff, rent, transportation, OTPS, technology, facility costs or other costs that are required to run a senior center, and allow for innovation to create new programs.

  8. Pay Nonprofits on time. The recent Comptroller Report titled Running Late: An Analysis of NYC Agency Contracts clearly relays what our members have been telling us for years: chronic late payments consistently puts strain on nonprofit human service providers throughout the City. Of note, DFTA submitted 98.9% of its contracts retroactively, meaning all but 3 DFTA contracts arrived at the Comptroller’s Office, the final step in the process, for registration after the contract start date. Nonprofits are hamstrung by these problems, often mirroring their clients by living payroll to payroll, uncertain when payment for services will finally arrive. Innovation and strategy is nearly impossible when organizations are essentially loaning the City funds to cover the cost of serving the most vulnerable. Further, because professionals are spending countless hours navigating the contractual bureaucracy, they are unable to use their key skills, strengths and creativity to move this City forward. The city must work with the human service sector to address these issues.

  9. Support agency-wide investments in the human services sector. LiveOn NY is a member of the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group (HSASG). The Council and Administration have made important investments in the sector over the past two years, as well as expanded program investments, while also tackling systems issues through the Nonprofit Resiliency Committee. More work needs to be done including increasing indirect expenses, fringe benefits, insurance, and occupancy costs which are all areas that are critical to the fiscal, administrative, and operational integrity of the sector.  We are also calling for trend factor/cost escalation formulas in all new procurements for the duration of the contract.

We look forward to working with City Council, DFTA, all city agencies and the Administration to make New York a better, and fairer, place to age through a strong network of community based services.

[i] New York State Office of the State Comptroller congregate Meal Services for the Elderly study, 2018

[ii] ACL Research Brief Number 8, September 2015 “Older Americans Benefit from Older Americans Nutrition Programs”

[iii] Meals on Wheels of America, Delivering So Much More than Just a Meal Fact Sheet, United States, 2018