March 20, 2007
Testimony before the Aging Committee of the New York City Council on behalf of the New York City Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORC) Coalition

Good afternoon.  I am Evelyn Jones Rich, a senior citizen – receiving both Medicare and Social Security - representing the Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORC) Coalition in New York City.

Thank you, Chairperson Arroyo and the other members of the City Council’s Aging Committee, for giving me the opportunity to present the NORC Coalition’s views on the FY’08 budget.

Other speakers - representing individual NORC’s, senior citizens’ centers, public and private housing entities and specific service providers – have already spoken or are scheduled to speak.  They will highlight the thousands of seniors they serve, the creative programs they initiate and execute, the health care services they deliver and the overall impact their programs have on the life and vibrancy of those of us who are 60+ and fortunate enough to live in communities that have evolved into NORCs and are benefiting from a supportive service program.

I am here to tell you briefly – first about the mission and goals of the NYC NORC Coalition and then about how you can stimulate, support, promote and expand the extraordinary efforts we undertake collectively on behalf of building supportive communities in which seniors live.

The NORC Coalition has a broad based membership which includes NORC service providers and individual community as well as umbrella organizations.  Currently, there are 34 city-funded NORC supportive service programs, which receive a total of $6.5+ million from the city.  Of this, currently only $4.0 million is base-lined in the budget.  The additional $2.5 million was originally included by the Council, though last year the mayor took responsibility for $1.5 million for one year.  NYState funds supplement  seventeen (17) of these programs.

NORC supportive service programs help to transform aged-in communities, mobilizing not only the financial resources of the city, the community and often philanthropy but in addition the life skills and experience of the seniors themselves in order to help create good places in which to grow old. 

These programs provide a host of services including case assistance and case management, information and referral, public health nursing as well as, in some cases, providing transportation and chore services coupled with social, educational and recreational activities. 

It is estimated that 350,000 of NY City’s 1.25 million seniors (60+) live in NORCs.  The NORC Coalition’s mission is to serve as an advocate for these seniors as well as those aspiring to create and operate additional NORC communities. Our goals are:

  1. to secure recognition, visibility and support for the public-private partnership which characterizes NORC programs city-wide;
  2. to assure funding for current NORC social service programs and ultimately to expand the number of NORC supportive service programs;.
  3. to insure the sustainability of NORC programs;
  4. to inform and reaffirm the work of the NYC Department for the Aging (DFTA);

In this context the NYC NORC Coalition seeks an increase in NORC baseline funding from $4 million to $6.5 million. Specifically this would require that an additional $2.5 million be incorporated into the city’s base budget. Although only the Mayor can baseline funds, the Council can insure that the funds are there to baseline and, further, it can support our request to the Mayor.

The funds we seek for DFTA address the essential mission of individual NORC programs – to keep seniors in their own homes - where they want to be – as they become older and frailer.  The 85+ segment of the City’s senior population – now at 121,703 – is the fastest growing segment of those above 60 and will require increased services – home care, home delivered meals, visiting nurse care, etc. - over the next decade.

We believe that every dollar spent now to help support these seniors in their own homes not only helps to greatly improve their quality of life, but also to enhance their health status. Through the United Hospital Fund’s Health  Indicators’s  project, funded in part by the Council, we will shortly be able to document the impact of these programs.

Let me make three essential points briefly about the Coalition and the NORC-SSP’s we represent.     

First, these programs are true public-private partnerships requiring  at least a 2/3 – 1/3 match, except for public housing, with matching funds deriving from landlords, coop boards, philanthropy and other local sources. For example, the budget of Lincoln House Outreach, the smallest funded DFTA NORC, is $160,000 - $75,000 of which DFTA provides as its minimum grant.

Lincoln House Outreach raises the difference – about $85,000 – through a combination of foundation funds, grants from elected officials and internal initiatives ranging from our end-of-year appeal letter to $2 fees for cat-sitting, plant-watering, and mail-collecting. House tours, gently-used clothing sales and a host of other creative and imaginative fund-raising efforts help.

Secondly, these programs attract significant numbers of seniors in the communities they serve. Neighbors and friends are drawn to the wide array of social, cultural and recreational activities we host. The total population of seniors residing in NORC SSP communities is about 55,000.  Analysis of the data provided by individual programs count about 15,000 unduplicated seniors served last year.

Finally, residents own their programs.  We initiate, maintain, expand and do the lion’s share of program implementation.  The degree of participation varies from Lincoln House whose program I co-chair to others  where seniors are less involved in program initiation and execution.

How to improve this extraordinary program, you ask?  First, the neighborhood  (WOW) experiment with NORC SSPs in communities of unaffiliated housing needs to be expanded and supported financially.  Across the City there are large numbers of seniors living in single and two-family homes. Most are single women living alone, dependent on limited resources.  Some are unable to physically access a senior program.  Personal contact with a NORC SSP caregiver would also build trust as well as help them access basic services. 

Most of these seniors would also benefit from the services that NORC SSPs can mobilize for them: HEAP, SCRIE, friendly visiting, trips to supermarket and/or bank with a companion and – very important and a relatively new program – access to  home repair services where they would no longer be vulnerable to predators who exploit seniors financially. 

Out there to assist is an army of seniors – retired but not yet tired – whom you should consider as “assets” rather than “liabilities.” and who continue to help those frail and elderly among us while taking full advantage of good health and keen and incisive minds.  “Retirement” for many of us is a myth. We believe that by remaining healthy and involved we will take the lead ourselves in seeking jobs, offering service, building support groups and enjoying local educational and cultural programs as we reduce the problems inactivity spawns.  We live in the present – not the future.  We look toward “successful” aging.

The NORC Coalition welcomes you as allies.

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