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5 Strategies to Fight Senior Center Funding Cuts

For many senior centers, state budget season is fraught with threats and challenges over funding.

In New York City, for example, the state is currently threatening a $17 million cut in Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) funding. Such a drastic cut would force 65 senior centers to close and “would result in 6,000 seniors losing complete access to vital community-based services,” according to a letter from Dr. Manoj Pardasani of Fordham University.

This same fight is happening in cities and states nationwide. If your senior center doesn’t have an advocacy campaign to spread the word about the important services you provide, now is the time to start.

Here are 5 strategies to advocate for your senior center:

1. Help seniors raise their voice

If you work at a senior center, you’re likely already a strong advocate for older adults and your organization. But a choir can be so much louder than a solo voice. Encourage participants at your center to raise their voices by forming a grassroots advocacy group. Use the NCOA Advocacy Toolkit to develop a yearly campaign to educate local and state officials on the needs of older adults and the relevancy of senior centers. Empower others to tell their story, and tell it often. Don’t forget to mobilize community partners that rely on you or the same funding streams for their services.

2. Know your local numbers

Decision makers always want to hear numbers. Be prepared to show the true cost of aging in your community using the Elder Index. Providing statistics about older adults in your community and their projected growth rate illustrates the value your center delivers.

3. Collect data

Every senior center should collect data on the types of programs they offer, the demographic characteristics of the participants, and their utilization patterns, as well as the impact (socially, emotionally, and physically) on the lives of older adults who participate. Gather statistics on participant outcomes in terms of economic security, health, independence, community volunteerism, and connection to resources. This is critical in initiating a dialogue about the relevance of senior centers in communities, as well as providing a tool for evidence-informed advocacy.

4. Connect to your state

Understand and use your state’s process, such as your State Plan on Aging and needs assessments conducted by area agencies on aging. Find out where and when feedback is being solicited, and seek a voice at the table. Don’t walk away if your state plan doesn’t specifically address senior centers. And always be aware of your state’s budget plans because funding left to the discretion of the state can have serious consequences for local communities.

5. Speak up at the federal level

SSBG is under threat nationally, too, and it has been targeted for elimination in recent years. Yet it is currently the only federal investment in Adult Protective Services and it provides major support for adult day care, home-delivered meals, and senior center activities. Tell Congress to oppose cuts to SSBG by adding your organization’s name to this letter that will be delivered to the Hill during Older Americans Month.

Do you have other examples of how to advocate for senior center funding? If so, please share in the comments below!

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About Maureen O'Leary

Maureen O'Leary has been Program Manager for NCOA's National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC) since 2007.