By Shan Liu, World Journal
NEW YORK - "This is the 21st Century. U.S. seniors cannot be out of touch with reality. We also need to learn and use computers," declared several seniors at the Chinese Seniors Center, which was filled with elderly Chinese who had come to read the news, play games, e-mail, and Photoshop pictures at the Center's computer room.
"Computer rooms are very popular. We have a set of schedule for the morning and the afternoon sessions. The most that anyone can use a computer is 2 hours," explained Chinese Senior Center Director Pauline Eng. When she heard that the city government is going to give funding to dozens of seniors centers to get computer and related equipments, Eng was surprised.
"How come we didn't know about this? Our senior center really needs the funding," she said.
Many organizations also did not know about the funding, because the city government has not released the official list of recipients. Unfortunately, on the tentative list, out of the 93 recipients, only four are located in the Chinese communities.
This September, Mayor Bloomberg announced that New York City got $20 million from the federal government to stimulate the economy of which1$4 million was to be allocated to NYC Connected Communities and $6 million to NYC Connected Foundation. The goal for the funding for NYC Connected Communities is to increase and expand computer and Internet connection in libraries, federal buildings, parks and recreational centers, senior centers, and community centers. In the recent past, the federal government gave funding to NYC Connected Learning Initiative, which provides free computers to sixth-grade students from low-income communities. New York City received a total of $42 million in discretionary funding.
The Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication, Parks and Recreation Department, and the Department for Aging already decided the 93 organizations that will receive the Connected Communities funding, which is expected in November. According to the tentative grantees list, 24 of the organizations are senior centers, 11 are family centers, 45 are libraries, and 13 are federal buildings. A close look at the recipients' list reveals that only four are located in Chinese communities, including the two public libraries located in Chinatown. According to DoITT and the Department for Aging, they distributed the funding according to economic factors. As to why the Chinese communities are not receiving enough funding, the departments simply responded that they have not finalized the list.
On average there are close to 300 seniors a week eating meals in senior centers across Flushing and Manhattan's Chinatown. Even when new immigrant seniors don't live close to a senior center, they often travel there for the activities offered at the centers, as well as for services such as help to apply for housing, social security, medical and other benefits. Unfortunately, recently some senior centers were forced to close down due to finances problems. Some centers have resorted to requesting donations from the seniors just to stay operational. On June 15, many Chinese joined a rally of seniors protesting against budget cuts in front of City Hall.
Several senior centers report that due to budget deficits they can no longer afford teachers for the computer classes, and some in some cases have been unable to afford keeping the computers. In New York City, the cost of having Internet connection is about $44, which is quite high for low-income families. Jake Itzokwitz, the spoke person for City Councilmember Margent Chen, who represents the Lower East Side, said that her office has not been contacted about the funding; however, Chen's office will work to secure funding for senior centers serving the Chinese community.