State funding to senior center could double

By Tara Monastesse
Posted 7/17/18

By TARA MONASTESSE -- Thanks to the efforts of a coalition of senior services along with the heartfelt pleas of hundreds of senior citizens, state legislators have restored $400,000 in state funding cuts to senior centers made over a decade ago. In Warwick,

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State funding to senior center could double


Thanks to the efforts of a coalition of senior services along with the heartfelt pleas of hundreds of senior citizens, state legislators have restored $400,000 in state funding cuts to senior centers made over a decade ago.

In Warwick, if a grant application goes as expected, the Pilgrim Senior center could receive over $76,000 in FY19, versus the approximately $38,000 they received this fiscal year.

“You spoke, and the General Assembly listened!” reads a flier thanking Pilgrim Senior Center residents following the signing of the budget by Governor Gina Raimondo in June.

As one of 46 senior centers in Rhode Island, the Pilgrim Senior Center provides transportation, financial aid and education, employment assistance and socialization opportunities for elderly citizens in Warwick. The senior center usually welcomes around 6,500 visitor annually.

Meg Underwood, Director of Senior Services, said these services offered by senior centers are often overlooked by most people, despite what important resources they are for aging members of the community.

Health, fitness and wellness programs are also provided at the senior center. The Aging in Community Subcommittee reports that participation in these programs, along with the social connections seniors are able to make in centers, can slow or even prevent functional deterioration in elderly citizens. Financial assistance for struggling residents is also provided.

Simply put, the goal of senior centers is to allow the elderly to remain independent as long as possible, and to introduce them to all opportunities for personal growth and stability that are available to them.

However, in 2006 state funding to senior centers was cut from $859,786 to $400,000 – a 53 percent reduction.

The Senior Center Directors Association, the Senior Agenda Coalition and the Rhode Island Long Term Care Coordinating Council have all been part of an ongoing, extensive effort to restore funding.

Underwood, who is also the president of the Senior Center Directors Association, was one of the key figures that contributed to the passing of the funding restoration bill. In her letter to Rep. Teresa Tanzi, Chair of the House Finance Human Services Subcommittee, Underwood conveyed her support for the budget increase.

Research has shown that older adults who participate in senior center programs are healthier, both physically and mentally, Underwood explained in her letter. She went on to detail the importance of services provided by senior centers, and their necessity in the face of an ever-growing population of seniors.

On March 6, the Senior Agenda Coalition hosted the Second Annual Legislative Forum at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick. Accompanying Underwood at the Forum were several other prominent representatives of senior services that supported increasing the budget for senior centers. The delegation included Bill Flynn, Executive Director of the Senior Agenda Coalition, Maureen Maigret, Chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee and Sylvia Dulgarian, a financial education volunteer at the Pilgrim Senior Center. Also in attendance was Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, the sponsor of the bill that would alter the budget to include more state funding for senior centers.

Members of the Pilgrim Senior Center also attended the forum, where they were able to offer verbal testimonies about the importance of the senior center and its offered programs in their daily lives. In total, 386 seniors attended the forum to speak about their experiences with senior services in the state, including members of the Leon Mathieu Senior Center in Pawtucket and Cranston Senior Enrichment Center.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, also in attendance, listened to the perspectives offered by the seniors who pledged their support of the funding increase.

The delegation also offered testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on April 12 and the House Finance Committee on April 24.

The Senior Agenda Coalition was largely responsible for coordinating this effort, says Underwood.

As part of the effort to convince committee members to increase senior center funding, Underwood also invited members of the Pilgrim Senior Center to write letters to the House and Senate Finance Subcommittees about their own experiences in the center. Within only a week of her request, Underwood received more than 200 individual letters.

Their authors included members, relatives of members and volunteers of the Pilgrim Senior Center, all of who believed that the services offered by the center were crucial to aging citizens.

When she had to leave before she could testify before the House Finance Committee, Underwood left written testimony for the committee members, which included many of those letters she was provided with.

“Counselors many times identify seniors who are entitled to – but totally unaware of – financial assistance in several areas,” wrote Dulgarian in her letter. As a financial education volunteer, Dulgarian is part of a team of volunteers that works to help elders file tax returns. These volunteers meet twice a week with seniors between the months of February and April in order to electronically file tax returns free of charge.

“The Pilgrim Senior Center gave [Francis] purpose – a reason for getting up in the morning,” wrote Sandra Coutcher, the companion and caretaker of the late Francis Canning. “I wish I could tell you in person.”

Flynn, who began his work with the Senior Agenda Coalition in 2008, says he directly witnessed the negative repercussions of the budget cut, including senior centers not having enough staff to function at an ideal level. Underwood has also discussed the lack of staff being an issue affecting the quality of service provided by senior centers. She noted that two centers, Fox Point Senior Center in Providence and the Central Falls Senior Center, were forced to close as a direct result of the reduced State funding, and that the Lillian Feinstein Senior Center in Providence had to greatly reduce its schedule.

After the cuts, Underwood says, the Pilgrim Senior Center was able to remain open as the City of Warwick made up for lost funding. She said that, while the potential additional funding allocation will be at the discretion of new Mayor Joseph Solomon to spend, “Mayor Solomon is committed to strengthening and expanding senior services.”

Elsewhere in the city, Solomon and Ward 7 Councilman Stephen McAllister have already expressed their desire to reinvigorate the Buttonwoods Community Center, which prior to closing drew many seniors for recreational activities.

With the added funding, Underwood hopes that the Pilgrim Senior Center will be able to improve its transportation services, which provides elders with access to important local establishments such as grocery stores, libraries, pools, pharmacies, as well as access to health screenings and social service programs.

Currently, seven Transwick buses are in service at the Pilgrim Senior Center. Added funding could allow the center to purchase more buses and pay for maintenance.

The revision for the FY19 budget now allots $524,397 to senior services from the City of Warwick. This includes all services except for maintenance and custodial services, which are a part of the budget of the Department of Public Works, and Transwick buses.

Westbay Community Action will provide $20,900 in grants to assist with services that guide seniors through the process of receiving health care. This program has saved seniors over $174,000 in the open enrollment period alone.

Advocating for increased government support for senior centers is a more urgent issue than ever, as the population of senior citizens above the age of 65 in Rhode Island has increased exponentially and is projected to continue increasing at a steady rate. Underwood reports that 19.2 percent of Warwick citizens are currently 65 years of age or older.

According to statistics provided by the Aging in Community Subcommittee, 24.7 percent of Rhode Island’s population is expected to be 65 years of age or older by 2040.


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  • richardcorrente

    Meg Underwood needs to be applauded. She got grant funds that were there for years but if a City like Warwick doesn't ask, they get nothing. Part of The Corrente Plan is to hire a grant writer (maybe Meg underwood). Central Falls did it. It cost them $30,000 and they received over $600,000. The extra money could go to "Cut Taxes"!

    Happy Summer everyone.

    Rick Corrente

    The Taxpayers Mayor

    Tuesday, July 17, 2018 Report this

  • Scal1024

    Meg Underwood, the wonderful public servant Rick Corrente rightfully applauds in this article is quoted in the piece discussing the City being in charge of allocating funds to senior services. If she was afraid of any cuts or level funding from Mayor Solomon in the budget she would certainly advocate on behalf of our seniors for more funds. In fact when asked about this she said:

    "Mayor Solomon is committed to strengthening and expanding senior services" - Meg Underwood

    I don't hear worry from Meg Underwood. If there was she'd no doubt be stating so. This wonderful public servant who should be applauded, and is also the Director of Senior Services, its safe to say she knows a thing or two about the best care for our seniors. She believes in Mayor Solomon's commitment, and desire to expand services, that says alot.

    Rick Corrente won't have to hire her as a grant writer because he isn't going to win the election. What a glance into the ego of Rick Corrente. Not only that he's "hiring staff" for a job he won't win, but the biggest assumption being that Meg Underwood would not only leave her job as Director of Senior Services, but that she would ever want to work for "The Tax Delinquents Mayor', especially after the dishonest, gutter, smear campaign he's run against a good man like Joe Solomon. Rick Corrente calls Joe Solomon "a friend" , yet he calls him a "political insider" and "a flip flopper". Imagine a guy who never pays his taxes on time actually questioning the motives of a decades long public servant? What kind of "friend" would take cheap, dishonest political shots at somebody just to try and "earn" a few votes? Shameful. Again, more insight into the character of Rick Corrente. In 4 years it seems that being late on tax payments, water and sewer bills while loaning your campaign over $40,000 is the real "Corrente Plan".

    One more note...

    Rick Corrente can spare me the lectures on how he cares about our seniors. Corrente racked up $13,000 in delinquent taxes over 2 years. Some of our most vulnerable seniors struggle with providing food and affording certain prescriptions. Rick Corrente racks up $13,000 in delinquent taxes and loans his campaign $40,000. Why can he afford to loan his campaign money? Yet he cannot afford his car/property taxes? That doesn't sound like a citizen concerned about our seniors, that sounds more like a pathological liar. Someone who in their own mind believes they are some advocate for the people, who believes they have accomplished so much and have reached "many". When the reality is you have run an empty campaign full of lies and distorted, disproven claims.There is no limit to the amount of dishonesty and pure fiction spread by the Corrente campaign, while ignoring his own history of litigation losses, tax delinquency and unpaid bills. Warwick doesn't need a "mortgage guy" who lost his home to foreclosure.

    Tuesday, July 17, 2018 Report this

  • CrickeeRaven

    Scal, as we know too well, part of the make-believe mayor's "plan" is to ignore facts and try to fool voters. His talk of "hiring" a grant writer is a perfect example -- here's an article about the senior center director who is already writing grants for the city, and yet he's acting as if hiring a grant writer is some kind of new idea.

    Contrary to his claims, he is actually insulting Meg Underwood by suggesting that she would be a full-time grant writer instead of continuing in her current position as director of senior services.

    His claim about Central Falls is, at best, questionable, as he doesn't provide any proof for it. I'm sure you'd agree that using Central Falls -- which had its school system taken over by the state in the midst of a financial meltdown -- as an example of good fiscal management is likewise a sign of the make-believe mayor's unfitness for office.

    And you raise a very good point, about the make-believe mayor's ability to waste $40,000 on a losing campaign while his property taxes and sewer and water bills went unpaid by him. That is not the behavior of someone who cares about Warwick's seniors -- or anyone else but himself, for that matter.

    Honest, taxpaying voters who do care about Warwick will prove it by overwhelmingly rejecting his campaign again on Sept. 12.

    Wednesday, July 18, 2018 Report this

  • Scal1024

    Crickee, great job by you highlighting the fact the city already uses a grant writer. Rick Corrente has used this same recycled line about a grant writer saving the city so much money. He usually uses this false talking point whenever he's pressed to name ONE area of spending he would cut. Much like all of his "plans" when his "hire a grant writer" idea is looked at a little closer, we see it is just more empty words. How does Rick Corrente not know the city has used a grant writer? I can just see Correntes new slogan now:

    "Rick Corrente

    Let's Turn Warwick Into Central Falls"

    Wednesday, July 18, 2018 Report this

  • CrickeeRaven

    Thanks, Scal, for the kind words -- and for succinctly exposing one of the underlying defects in the make-believe mayor's candidacy: That when one looks into his claims, they are found to be, at best, empty, and at worst, completely contradictory to what he thinks he's trying to say.

    It's a clear sign that the make-believe mayor really doesn't consider his words before making uninformed statements on this website -- he obviously did not think through the idea of using Central Falls as an example of good fiscal management.

    We can very likely expect, now that another of his statements has been exposed as delusional, that he will add a comment on this page trying to defend it, mainly by attacking your use of a screen name.

    Equally likely is that he will not reply on this page and instead find a new article where he will try to push his false claims.

    Either way, whatever his point was, the make-believe mayor has failed to prove anything but his complete unfitness for office.

    Wednesday, July 18, 2018 Report this