Jul 30, 2014
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Joan Millman: Advocating for the Aging

Assemblywoman Millman takes the reins as Chairperson of the Assembly Committee on Aging.

Joan Millman: Advocating for the Aging

The population of New York seniors is on the rise, even as services for the elderly are continually slashed due to city and state budget woes. , who in June became chair of the Assembly Committee on Aging, knows that keeping these vital services in place won’t be easy.

“I see my new role as being an advocate for the funding,” she said during a recent interview at her Smith Street office. “It’s hard to get the dollars. There aren’t dollars for half the things we want to do.”

“They threaten every year to close centers, and that’s of real concern to the seniors who use them," she added.

For the past fifteen years, Millman has represented the 52nd Assembly District, which comprises Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Columbia Waterfront, DUMBO, Fulton Ferry Landing, Gowanus, Park Slope, Prospect Heights and Vinegar Hill. She has long been involved with local programs for the elderly, including the annual senior fair, free trips to Fairway and Senior movie mornings at local cinemas. But she will now be examining the issues affecting the elderly on a statewide basis, looking into the unique problems affiliated with suburbs and remote parts of the state.

And she will take what she learns in other parts of the state and consider applying those lessons here.

“Statewide, you can get a broader perspective,” Millman said. “I know the senior centers in my community and the people who go to the centers that are my constituents, but I don’t really know what kind of center they have in Buffalo. They may be doing innovative things there that could be helpful here.”

In October, Millman will be putting together a statewide round-table on the subject of elder abuse.

“We get cases in this office where a son and daughter-in-law convince the mother to sign over the brownstone to them, and now the old woman is convinced that the daughter is going to sell the house from under her and now she doesn’t have any place to live,” Millman said. “Fortunately, we’re not inundated with physical abuse, but we have had a couple, where maybe the child is a substance abuser and steals from the parent.”

Millman said that one major difficulty in cases of elder abuse is that the victims are often reluctant to come forward about their treatment. 

“There’s so much shame and embarrassment, they can’t tell anybody," she said. "Because how do you tell somebody that your own child is stealing from you or threatens you?” 

Millman hopes that in addition to seeking funding for programs that support the elderly, there may be some legislative solutions as well. For instance, she is looking into introducing legislation that would create mandated reporters for elder abuse, just as there are for child abuse. 

“At places like the senior centers, people come every day, they can see there are bruises,” Millman said. "They can see physical abuse, but they’re not mandated to report it right now. I would think that would be an avenue we would look at.”

In addition to the committee for the aging, Millman, a former elementary school teacher and school librarian, also sits on the education committee, corporations and authorities, transportation and labor.

She has also long been involved in a certain city park whose unusual mandate to create its own revenue stream to pay for itself has resulted in an ongoing battle over private housing vs. public space.

“Somebody once called me the grandmother of Brooklyn Bridge Park because I’ve been dealing with it for decades,” Millman said.

“The thing is, during the 70s, we had a financial crisis in the city, and Prospect Park suffered, because they cut their budget to the bone. And what happened? The benches didn’t get painted, and the trees didn’t get pruned, and the grass turned brown. Well if that happened to Brooklyn Bridge Park, the piers wouldn’t be maintained. It’s different. We already saw the collapse of Pier Two. Just the simple upkeep of the piers is much more expensive than anything we’ve ever done. People felt that you couldn’t depend on city and state government to be the continual cash cow to maintain this."

She is relieved now that a recent Memorandum of Understanding from the City has agreed to l, and believes that this could result in fewer or smaller private housing developments being built. Yet she does not seem to perceive private housing as an existential threat to the idea of a truly public park.

“360 Furman had been there all along,” she said, referring to the 1 Brooklyn Bridge Park property that rose up before the revenue-generating plan took shape. “All I know is you go down to the park on weekends, and you see in the water park Hasidic kids there, little girls in their long dresses frolicking in the stones in the water, with kids that are green and black and brown and blue. So it doesn’t mean that the park isn’t for everybody, It hasn’t turned out that way. You go and see the movies on Thursday night, everybody’s there. I don’t think that they think at all about the housing. They’re just there to have a good time and they do. So I think that one building certainly hasn’t made it a park for the elite. You don’t see that at all. People just come and use it.”

Millman's post as Chair of the Committee on Aging likely won't deal with issues as controversial as Brooklyn Bridge Park, but still she is taking it very seriously.

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