North Hempstead officials are seeking a $1 million federal grant for a senior program because funding for it ends this year -- putting the popular service "in danger of expiring," according to Sen. Charles Schumer.
Project Independence, available to 52,000 town seniors ages 60 and older, provides free transportation and home care services so they can continue to live in their homes rather than seek help at assisted living or nursing facilities. Drivers in the program take participants to grocery stores and doctors' visits, and nurses make house calls.
"It is about to go out of existence," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference in the parking lot of the Great Neck Social Center Tuesday. "It's running out of money."
An expiring U.S. Department of Transportation grant that covered those services is no longer available and was consolidated into a "more competitive" grant covering more transportation programs, Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro said.
"Now is not the time to hit the brakes on a project that serves so many seniors," Schumer said.
Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said the program provides a "critical safety net" for seniors. "We want to make sure residents are not forced from their homes, that they don't lose their independence."
"Imagine something as simple as a ride to the supermarket meaning the difference between staying in your home and moving to an assisted living facility," Bosworth said.
Bosworth and Schumer said the funding is particularly important, since Project Independence has taken on new responsibilities this year. It now serves an additional 2,000 seniors in the North New Hyde Park community after Federation Employment and Guidance Services, a Manhattan social services nonprofit known as FEGS, announced it would close earlier this year. The town reallocated resources to accommodate those changes.
FEGS had funded services for those seniors through a $140,000 state grant. Advertising that seniors can "age in place," Project Independence launched in 2009 after a trial period and was a signature initiative of former town Supervisor Jon Kaiman.
Since 2009, the program has answered nearly 130,00 service requests and provided 76,000 rides for trips to the grocery store and medical offices, officials said.
Project Independence has community-center type locations across the town of 226,000 residents, including in Roslyn, Mineola, New Hyde Park, Great Neck, Westbury and Port Washington.
The town last month recognized its 10,000th member with a surprise visit, welcoming her with an oversized membership card -- Publisher's Clearinghouse style -- and a gift basket.
But not all of the town's senior residents are enrolled in the program, which was made clear during the news conference. During Schumer's presentation in front of a hybrid Project Independence bus in the center's parking lot, a man on a bicycle cut in -- interrupting the news conference.
"He doesn't need Project Independence," Schumer said.