With a call for the federal government to continue funding for Project Independence in the Town of North Hempstead, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer came to the Great Neck Social Center Tuesday, June 30, to warn against the dangers of senior citizens facing a major setback, should the funding be allowed to expire. Schumer termed the possibility a “quality of life issue” for the seniors and a major cost factor for the federal government. He emphasized that without Project Independence, without that possibility to gracefully age in place, the older residents would become homebound and thus require other, more costly care.
Schumer secured the funding for the original Project Independence grant. He noted that the repeal of these funds would affect more than 50,000 seniors. He added that Project Independence has just been forced to take on 2,000 new seniors with closure of other programs. And now, he said, “the future is on the line” for Project Independence, too.
Last week, he told those gathered at the Social Center (formerly the Great Neck Senior Center) that the future is now uncertain for nearly a quarter of North Hempstead’s entire population with transportation and home care needs. He emphasized that Project Independence allows residents to remain in their homes as they grow older. This program coordinates essential transportation to doctor’s offices and for grocery shopping and visits from nurses and caseworkers, all the while saving large amounts of money for the federal government.
“Put the wheels in motion to keep this essential transportation program rolling for 50,000 Nassau seniors,” urged the senator in his plea to the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) to provide approximately $1 million in federal funding for North Hempstead’s Project Independence. At this point, the services are only promised until the end of this year. And at this time, Nassau officials are hoping a grant proposal they have just submitted to the federal government will keep the program fully operational.
“It may sound simple, but what is going on here with Project Independence is so much more than a ride, it’s a lifeline,” said Schumer. “Thousands of seniors in the Town of North Hempstead rely on Project Independence, as it provides an added comfort of knowing they can live independently at home while having access to much-needed transportation options. We all know that the town’s suburban geography can often make it difficult for seniors to get to the doctor or to the nearby supermarket but that doesn’t mean seniors want to move out of their home and into an assisted living facility or nursing home. This federal funding is crucial, as it will help make sure Project Independence has the resources it needs to succeed and continue for the next three years, and I will do everything in my power to make sure we secure this funding.”
The Town of North Hempstead is comprised of 30 villages and 17 hamlets; it is the seventh largest municipality in New York State and occupies 58 square miles. Seniors make up 23 percent of the town’s population. To date, a total of 155,350 rides were provided via the Project Independence senior transportation program; specifically, 101,722 medical and 53,628 food shopping rides.
Project Independence aims to support the aging in place of seniors with an emphasis on preserving each resident’s independence, dignity and safety. Project Independence connects seniors to critical services by working side by side with the town’s 311 call center. Project Independence’s transportation program is costly. Specifically, it is made up of mobility management staff who counsel the town’s senior residents on all transportation options; contracted taxi companies who transport seniors to medical appointments (rides are based on the Medicaid rate), which are available seven days a week; food shopping, at no charge to the rider and available two days a week, with drivers who assist with carrying shopping bags to the door; and the town’s senior busing, which transports residents to senior organizations, nutrition sites and other programs.
The town is applying to the U.S. DOT Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Section 5310 program, which works to increase mobility for seniors and persons with disabilities by providing funds for programs to service the special needs of transit-dependent populations beyond the most traditional public transportation services. This FTA award would provide nearly $1 million in public assistance to the Town of North Hempstead for Project Independence. Schumer is pushing DOT to provide this $1 million to North Hempstead, as it will allow the program to continue for the next three years. Schumer said this funding will go a long way, as it will help save the feds money over time because it means that seniors can age in place and not move to senior centers or nursing homes.