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Seniors Discuss Service Funding in White Plains

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Westchester seniors including Lavinia Smith of Mount Vernon gathered in the county center Tuesday morning to learn how federal and state funding changes might affect local programs at the annual meeting of the county's Department of Senior Programs and Services.

Smith, who is involved with initiatives partially funded by the county, said the Mount Vernon Youth Bureau's Intergenerational Choir and reading mentoring programs for elementary school students she participates in are beneficial for seniors as well as the community.

"The thing that keeps us seniors busy and sustains us is our part in the Mount Vernon Youth Bureau's Intergenerational Choir," said Smith. "The power, truly the power of intergeneration work, is that not only do children gain more self-confidence and guidance, but we seniors, we too benefit in so many ways."

Since the proposed Westchester County budget does not have to be presented until Nov. 15, it's difficult for the department of senior services to discuss its budget. However, the department invited Greg Olsen, the acting director of the New York State Office for the Aging, to describe changes in Albany and Washington D.C. that may influence local seniors.

"One of the most distressing and devastating proposals is the 50 percent reduction in the HEAP program, the Home Energy Assistance Program, that the president put forward," Olsen said while explaining that both the House and Senate have criticized this suggestion.

He also expressed concerns that the federal government has been considering slashing funding for the Corporation for National Community Service, which organizes civic programs such as AmeriCorps and Foster Grandparents for citizens of all ages, by 80 percent.  Washington D.C.'s talk of cutting state health insurance assistance programs, such as New York's Health Information Counseling Assistance Program, is worrisome, Olsen said.

"We’re about to enter into an open enrollment period, actually this week, to help individuals understand the changes in their plans and help them make the right choices with plans that meet their needs. That was zeroed out by the house," he said. "That’s a huge problem because we serve hundreds of thousands of people each year and certainly the network across the country does as well. These decisions are important healthcare decisions, independence decisions, and fiscal decisions."

Mae Carpenter, the commissioner of the county's Department of Senior Programs and Services, announced the biggest worries raised by seniors in a recent Westchester study. Currently, the top concerns of Westchester seniors are transportation, income security, affordable housing, home health care service and property taxes.

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