By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
LOWER EAST SIDE — A spate of senior centers throughout the Lower East Side offering specialty services for the area's diverse elderly community have been threatened with closure unless the state restores millions to its proposed budget.
Five senior centers on the Lower East Side and Chinatown face the ax under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's preliminary budget, which would put 26 Manhattan centers on the chopping block. Citywide, New York faces the closure of 105 centers in total.
"What the governor failed to look at it is, for a lot of these centers, it's their lifeline," said Councilwoman Margaret Chin, whose lower Manhattan district is facing the potential loss of six senior centers.
"Senior centers are necessary. We need more, not less."
One of the centers eyed for closure, the Bowery Residents Committee Senior Center at 30 Delancey St., offers special translation services for its 100-or-so weekly visitors, the majority of whom don't speak English.
"We act as an outside arm of their family," said director Kim Fong, adding that the center staffs caseworkers who help visitors translate important information about things like their Social Security and Medicaid benefits.
"You definitely want a sense of being culturally appropriate to the people that you serve."
Fong said the loss of that familiar community could have devastating effects on seniors' physical and mental health.
"One of my biggest fears for these seniors is they will be facing social isolation," she said, noting that centers with similar programs in the immediate area were also facing closure or cutbacks.
For instance, the Educational Alliance's Whittaker Senior Center at 197 E. Broadway faces the loss of its five-day-a-week kosher meal program, which is a big draw for seniors in the district who can't easily access free kosher food elsewhere, Chin said.
"These meals are critical for seniors, particularly those who keep kosher and who are frail," read a statement from the Educational Alliance, which is not threatened with the loss of its other senior programming.
"Every day, 40 to 50 seniors rely on these meals as a primary source of nutrition and as an opportunity to share a meal with others."
The proposed action would not only close University's Settlement's Hernandez Senior Center at 189 Allen St., which serves as many as 150 seniors a day, but would also severely limit the organization's efforts to deliver other elderly services throughout the community, said Melissa Aase, director of community development.
In addition to serving visitors on site and delivering meals to homebound seniors across the neighborhood, the 40-year-old center provides about 125 meals a day to another senior center, as well as catering to a pair of elderly-only public housing buildings nearby, Aase added.
"We wouldn't be in the business of doing any of these things without our senior center," she said, explaining that University Settlement also assists about 1,300 additional seniors in Chinatown through related services.
"We feel like there's more at risk if our senior center closes than just our senior center. This would basically decimate us."