"By the time you pay rent, all the medical insurance,...

"By the time you pay rent, all the medical insurance, medication costs, doctor costs, there's nothing left for food," says Michele Fedinic of East Rockaway. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Michele Fedinic says she "lost everything" to people she thought were trustworthy friends, but turned out to be swindlers who duped her out of her hard-earned savings. Her financial situation turned so dire, she said, she lost her Valley Stream home to foreclosure.

Frail, with a litany of health issues — including bouts of squamous cell skin cancer and Stage 3 colon cancer — Fedinic, 64, is unmarried with no immediate family. She gets by on federal Supplemental Security Income disability benefits, as well as several prepared meals she has received weekly since 2019 from the Meals on Wheels program.

Fedinic is among the nation's elderly population that has grown dramatically over a decade, according to a new study by the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City-based think tank. Analyzing census data, the study found that between 2011 and 2021, the 65 and older population in New York State boomed to nearly 3.5 million people, more than the entire population of 21 states. And growing shares are living in poverty, the study said.

Though not yet 65 years old, Fedinic is eligible for many senior services, which start at age 60 for some programs and 62 for others.

For Fedinic, the EAC-Network's Meals on Wheels program has been a lifeline.

The EAC-Network, a nonprofit, delivered 130,000 meals to Nassau County residents ages 60 and up in 2022, said president and chief executive Neela Mukherjee Lockel. It also served more than 6,000 seniors and handed out 20,000 meals last year at the four senior centers it operates under contract with Nassau County in Point Lookout, Hempstead Village, Port Washington and North Merrick. 

"Meals on Wheels is very important," Fedinic said in an interview at her one-bedroom apartment in East Rockaway recently. "Number one, if you can't get out and about and do shopping, or if you're not strong enough to do cooking, having that meal provided and delivered to you, that's crucial." Fedinic rarely goes out, only to doctors' appointments that her landlord often takes her to, she said.

Then, Fedinic said, there's the cost of food. "By the time you pay rent, all the medical insurance, medication costs, doctor costs, there's nothing left for food." She said Meals on Wheels delivered a total of five meals a week. "They bring three frozen meals one day, two another [day]. Then with each delivery you also get bread, butter, fresh fruit, juices, apple sauce, usually a pudding and a cookie for dessert. I mean, it's a miracle."

To emphasize just how important she views Meals on Wheels, Fedinic followed up in a phone message later saying, "I just wanted to make sure that you stress the fact that without Meals on Wheels and Jennifer and Gary [EAC-Network workers], I would be dead because I would have nothing to eat. It's a tough thing to say but, unfortunately, it's very true."

The Center for an Urban Future study, "Keeping Pace With An Aging New York State," said those age 65 and older in New York were experiencing "an increase in poverty." It also said an "expanding share of the state's older adults are immigrants and people of color," and overall the growth of those aged 65 and older was increasing at a level that was "outpacing overall population growth in every one of the state's 19 largest counties and most of its largest cities, including Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers, Albany and New York City."

The report found that the elderly population in Nassau increased by 51,593 and by 62,077 in Suffolk between 2011 and 2021. That contrasted with a decline in the number of people under 65 in both counties: 3,493 in Nassau and by a much larger 35,964 in Suffolk.

Several Long Island advocates who assist the elderly said the data pointed to the need to increase funding for programs, with one saying that should be done in new ways, from assistance for meals and caregivers to the creation of affordable housing and tax relief. 

"It's hard when you've got $3,000 of income coming in and $1,500 in taxes, and keeping your house free and clear of any liens," said Theresa Regnante, president and chief executive of the United Way of Long Island. "It's just a lot of pressure being on a fixed income."

It points to a major challenge for service providers and governmental leaders who hold the purse strings. 

"I think we've seen that there's not enough senior services compared to other parts of the country," said Karen Boorshtein, president and chief executive of the Huntington-based Family Service League, which has more than 60 programs at 20 locations aiding children, adults, families and seniors. "I feel like New York State is behind. We need to provide care for our seniors to age in place at home, if possible." And to do it, she said, by providing "quality heath care aides" who needed to be paid more "because they're caring for our elderly. You want to make sure we get top notch care."

Regnante advocated for the creation of a "dedicated funding stream" solely for seniors to pay utility bills, medication, meals and the like.

United Way's "Safe At Home" program for seniors in Huntington, Brookhaven, Islip and Babylon towns, Regnante said, uses "community navigators" to assist seniors 62 and up. "They need someone to help them go shop" or pay utility bills. The program also includes safety inspections in the homes. "When we walk through homes, we see the deterioration. They need far more work than the [$2,000] grant allows … We ought to be able to do more in these communities."

A local economist, John Rizzo, who is a professor at Stony Brook University, said the growth of Long Island's elderly population posed challenges for the region "because you have a smaller working force supporting a larger retired community. What do we do about that?" One thing policymakers should focus on, he said, was lowering the cost of "health care, to the extent possible," particularly prescription drug costs for the elderly. 

A case in point is Fedinic. Living off a disability check that now is about $2,300 a month, Fedinic said she paid $1,300 a month in rent. She takes around a dozen medications for her various illnesses, which also include tremors affecting her limbs and voice, acid reflux, balance issues, intestinal issues, and arthritis, she said. One medication alone costs $559 for a three-month supply, she said. Some of the cost is deducted from her disability as part of her Medicare insurance premium: Medicare Part B, she said, costs her about $160 a month, plus another $13 a month is deducted for a separate drug plan. Then there's Medicare Part C, which helps cover what Part B doesn't, and costs $217 a month, she said, and "I have to make the payment myself" because it's not automatically deducted from her disability check.

"Trying to navigate your way through all the agencies and the bureaucracy, it’ll drive you nuts," Fedinic said. "I would love to go out and eat. It’s not an option. You just don’t have the funds for it.”

Meanwhile, Nassau and Suffolk governmental leaders pointed to an array of programs available for the elderly, such as numerous senior centers, case management services, assistance with transportation, home-delivered meals, wellness programs, recreational outlets, counseling and more. But they also acknowledged the need to improve or expand services for a growing senior population. Economic development, they suggested, was a remedy that could create revenue.

"As Suffolk County's population demographics shift and the local economy changes, it is essential we make key investments to protect our most vulnerable," Nicole Russo, a county spokesperson, wrote in an email listing investing in and "reimagining" downtown and commercial districts, making transit improvements and growing more jobs as crucial goals. The county is working with municipalities, nonprofit groups and developers to "construct and rehabilitate housing that is affordable for individuals," Russo added.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said in an interview, "We're always looking for ways to improve and expand programs so our seniors get as many services as possible, bearing in mind their population is increasing."

Overall, Blakeman said what was necessary to meet increased funding for programs for seniors or tax relief, as many advocates urged, was growing the tax base, largely by bringing in more businesses.

"I think we need to look at tax relief on a macro basis for everybody," Blakeman said. "One way that you can increase revenues without raising property taxes is through economic development and increasing the tax base of our county. It means building up the economic base by developing jobs and creating economic prosperity …"

Beth Finkel, the New York State director of AARP, which advocates for the 50 and older population and financed the Center for an Urban Future's study, cast the obligation for state leaders in moral as well as financial terms to help the elderly, whom she called the "backbones of their communities."

"There's the quality of life" issue, Finkel said, noting that AARP's surveys of its membership shows "they want to age in their own homes and communities. And we also know it's the fiduciary responsible thing for New York State to do. It's cheaper to keep somebody at home than it costs to put them in a nursing home."

Michele Fedinic says she "lost everything" to people she thought were trustworthy friends, but turned out to be swindlers who duped her out of her hard-earned savings. Her financial situation turned so dire, she said, she lost her Valley Stream home to foreclosure.

Frail, with a litany of health issues — including bouts of squamous cell skin cancer and Stage 3 colon cancer — Fedinic, 64, is unmarried with no immediate family. She gets by on federal Supplemental Security Income disability benefits, as well as several prepared meals she has received weekly since 2019 from the Meals on Wheels program.

Fedinic is among the nation's elderly population that has grown dramatically over a decade, according to a new study by the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City-based think tank. Analyzing census data, the study found that between 2011 and 2021, the 65 and older population in New York State boomed to nearly 3.5 million people, more than the entire population of 21 states. And growing shares are living in poverty, the study said.

Though not yet 65 years old, Fedinic is eligible for many senior services, which start at age 60 for some programs and 62 for others.

For Fedinic, the EAC-Network's Meals on Wheels program has been a lifeline.

The EAC-Network, a nonprofit, delivered 130,000 meals to Nassau County residents ages 60 and up in 2022, said president and chief executive Neela Mukherjee Lockel. It also served more than 6,000 seniors and handed out 20,000 meals last year at the four senior centers it operates under contract with Nassau County in Point Lookout, Hempstead Village, Port Washington and North Merrick. 

"Meals on Wheels is very important," Fedinic said in an interview at her one-bedroom apartment in East Rockaway recently. "Number one, if you can't get out and about and do shopping, or if you're not strong enough to do cooking, having that meal provided and delivered to you, that's crucial." Fedinic rarely goes out, only to doctors' appointments that her landlord often takes her to, she said.

Then, Fedinic said, there's the cost of food. "By the time you pay rent, all the medical insurance, medication costs, doctor costs, there's nothing left for food." She said Meals on Wheels delivered a total of five meals a week. "They bring three frozen meals one day, two another [day]. Then with each delivery you also get bread, butter, fresh fruit, juices, apple sauce, usually a pudding and a cookie for dessert. I mean, it's a miracle."

To emphasize just how important she views Meals on Wheels, Fedinic followed up in a phone message later saying, "I just wanted to make sure that you stress the fact that without Meals on Wheels and Jennifer and Gary [EAC-Network workers], I would be dead because I would have nothing to eat. It's a tough thing to say but, unfortunately, it's very true."

The Center for an Urban Future study, "Keeping Pace With An Aging New York State," said those age 65 and older in New York were experiencing "an increase in poverty." It also said an "expanding share of the state's older adults are immigrants and people of color," and overall the growth of those aged 65 and older was increasing at a level that was "outpacing overall population growth in every one of the state's 19 largest counties and most of its largest cities, including Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers, Albany and New York City."

The report found that the elderly population in Nassau increased by 51,593 and by 62,077 in Suffolk between 2011 and 2021. That contrasted with a decline in the number of people under 65 in both counties: 3,493 in Nassau and by a much larger 35,964 in Suffolk.

Increase funding for senior programs

Several Long Island advocates who assist the elderly said the data pointed to the need to increase funding for programs, with one saying that should be done in new ways, from assistance for meals and caregivers to the creation of affordable housing and tax relief. 

"It's hard when you've got $3,000 of income coming in and $1,500 in taxes, and keeping your house free and clear of any liens," said Theresa Regnante, president and chief executive of the United Way of Long Island. "It's just a lot of pressure being on a fixed income."

It points to a major challenge for service providers and governmental leaders who hold the purse strings. 

"I think we've seen that there's not enough senior services compared to other parts of the country," said Karen Boorshtein, president and chief executive of the Huntington-based Family Service League, which has more than 60 programs at 20 locations aiding children, adults, families and seniors. "I feel like New York State is behind. We need to provide care for our seniors to age in place at home, if possible." And to do it, she said, by providing "quality heath care aides" who needed to be paid more "because they're caring for our elderly. You want to make sure we get top notch care."

Regnante advocated for the creation of a "dedicated funding stream" solely for seniors to pay utility bills, medication, meals and the like.

United Way's "Safe At Home" program for seniors in Huntington, Brookhaven, Islip and Babylon towns, Regnante said, uses "community navigators" to assist seniors 62 and up. "They need someone to help them go shop" or pay utility bills. The program also includes safety inspections in the homes. "When we walk through homes, we see the deterioration. They need far more work than the [$2,000] grant allows … We ought to be able to do more in these communities."

Reduce health care costs

A local economist, John Rizzo, who is a professor at Stony Brook University, said the growth of Long Island's elderly population posed challenges for the region "because you have a smaller working force supporting a larger retired community. What do we do about that?" One thing policymakers should focus on, he said, was lowering the cost of "health care, to the extent possible," particularly prescription drug costs for the elderly. 

A case in point is Fedinic. Living off a disability check that now is about $2,300 a month, Fedinic said she paid $1,300 a month in rent. She takes around a dozen medications for her various illnesses, which also include tremors affecting her limbs and voice, acid reflux, balance issues, intestinal issues, and arthritis, she said. One medication alone costs $559 for a three-month supply, she said. Some of the cost is deducted from her disability as part of her Medicare insurance premium: Medicare Part B, she said, costs her about $160 a month, plus another $13 a month is deducted for a separate drug plan. Then there's Medicare Part C, which helps cover what Part B doesn't, and costs $217 a month, she said, and "I have to make the payment myself" because it's not automatically deducted from her disability check.

"Trying to navigate your way through all the agencies and the bureaucracy, it’ll drive you nuts," Fedinic said. "I would love to go out and eat. It’s not an option. You just don’t have the funds for it.”

Meanwhile, Nassau and Suffolk governmental leaders pointed to an array of programs available for the elderly, such as numerous senior centers, case management services, assistance with transportation, home-delivered meals, wellness programs, recreational outlets, counseling and more. But they also acknowledged the need to improve or expand services for a growing senior population. Economic development, they suggested, was a remedy that could create revenue.

"As Suffolk County's population demographics shift and the local economy changes, it is essential we make key investments to protect our most vulnerable," Nicole Russo, a county spokesperson, wrote in an email listing investing in and "reimagining" downtown and commercial districts, making transit improvements and growing more jobs as crucial goals. The county is working with municipalities, nonprofit groups and developers to "construct and rehabilitate housing that is affordable for individuals," Russo added.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said in an interview, "We're always looking for ways to improve and expand programs so our seniors get as many services as possible, bearing in mind their population is increasing."

Overall, Blakeman said what was necessary to meet increased funding for programs for seniors or tax relief, as many advocates urged, was growing the tax base, largely by bringing in more businesses.

"I think we need to look at tax relief on a macro basis for everybody," Blakeman said. "One way that you can increase revenues without raising property taxes is through economic development and increasing the tax base of our county. It means building up the economic base by developing jobs and creating economic prosperity …"

Beth Finkel, the New York State director of AARP, which advocates for the 50 and older population and financed the Center for an Urban Future's study, cast the obligation for state leaders in moral as well as financial terms to help the elderly, whom she called the "backbones of their communities."

"There's the quality of life" issue, Finkel said, noting that AARP's surveys of its membership shows "they want to age in their own homes and communities. And we also know it's the fiduciary responsible thing for New York State to do. It's cheaper to keep somebody at home than it costs to put them in a nursing home."

Aging in New York State and Long Island

Between 2011 and 2021, the state's population of people 65 and older grew 31%, from 2.6 million in 2011 to nearly 3.5 million in 2021. The state's total population in 2021 was estimated at 19.84 million.

Nassau County

Those 65 and over increased by 51,593 between 2011 and 2021 from 205,110 in 2011 to 256,703 in 2021.

The number of older adults in poverty increased 66%, from 12,366 in 2011 to 20,473 in 2021.

The number of foreign-born older adults increased by 52%, compared to U.S.-born older adults, who increased 17%. 

The county is now home to more than 75,000 foreign-born older adults, with immigrants now comprising 29% of the county's older adult population, up from 24% a decade ago.

Suffolk County

Those 65 and over rose by 62,077 — from 207,128 in 2011 to 269,205 in 2021. 

The county has more older adults than all but three counties in the state, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The number of older adults in poverty increased 64% — from 10,767 in 2011 to 17,610 in 2021.

The population of Latino older adults nearly doubled in the county, increasing by 11,505, the largest increase outside of New York City.

The county is now home to 41,512 foreign-born older adults.

Source: Center for an Urban Future's analysis of U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey's 2011 and 2021 1-year estimates.

Nurses reach tentative deal … Police bodycam footage release investigated … Teaching mindfulness Credit: Newsday

Updated 57 minutes ago LI prices at the pump lower ... Nurses reach tentative deal ... Smithtown house fire ... Wrestler beats cancer

Nurses reach tentative deal … Police bodycam footage release investigated … Teaching mindfulness Credit: Newsday

Updated 57 minutes ago LI prices at the pump lower ... Nurses reach tentative deal ... Smithtown house fire ... Wrestler beats cancer

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