Transportation for seniors remains in balance

By Jillian Marshall

December 5, 2013 Updated Dec 5, 2013 at 1:12 AM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) For the first time in more than a decade, a local program that provides free rides to seniors was set to be cut from a portion of $180,000 in grants issued by the city of Binghamton. But the matter was tabled in the 11th hour.

Catholic Charities' Retired Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP, has received federal funds administered by the city of Binghamton since 2001. Usually, they're awarded between $10,000 and 15,000. This year they asked for more. But the request -- all of it -- was denied.

RSVP Program Director Donna Nash showed concern over Binghamton City Council's decision to deny the organization the money it needs to operate.

"We will most likely be forced to cut routes, and seniors who now live independently," Nash said.

Originally, the service applied for $20,000 from the city's Community Development Block Grant fund, which is federal money that's issued at the local level.

In Binghamton, members of council and the mayor appointed a group to study how such federal dollars will be divided. That group, the Community Development Advisory Committee, didn't include the RSVP program in this year's recommendations to council, according to city spokesman Kyle Seeley.

"The city literally turns the selection and review process over to the CDAC," Seeley wrote in an email to Action News Wednesday. "The administration respects that commitment and engagement, and thought it would be irresponsible to randomly alter award decisions that were agreed upon by a diverse board of council and mayoral appointees."

Although the CDAC advises council, they have no voting power. The final review -- and the final decisions -- on which organizations will receive funding is made by City Council.

But Nash said Wednesday they would be happy to receive less, about $14,000, which is what they originally budgeted for.

RSVP offers door-to-door transportation with lift-equipped buses for seniors.

Nash said without this money, some seniors won't be able to leave their homes

Councilman Chris Papastrat thinks the program needs the funds. He elected to have all CDBG items held over for further discussion.

"They're one of our most vulnerable populations, especially the disabled seniors," he said. "So I thought it was a valid point to hold it over, get with City Council and see if we can find funding to help that program survive."

But not everyone agreed.

"I wish we had enough money to fund this transportation program, I feel strongly about the need for quality transportation, but something has to give," said City Council President Teri Rennia.

Rennia said discussion on whether the RSVP program would receive funding -- and whether other programs would lose out as a result -- will be scheduled for the next meeting Dec. 16.