Cincinnati City Council Votes to Include Senior Services in Human Services Funding

The United Way-administered fund is used to support a number of social service organizations, but over the past few years, funding criteria hasn't included seniors specifically

Over-the-Rhine Senior Center - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Over-the-Rhine Senior Center

Cincinnati City Council today voted to make services for seniors one of the issues it prioritizes for the city's United Way-administered human services fund.

The legislation comes after the OTR Senior Services Center, which has provided meals and a place to socialize for older residents of Over-the-Rhine, nearly closed in November.

The center once got as much as $116,000 in city funding, but that ended in 2015 after dwindling for years. That, combined with cuts to the funding that the center received from United Way, put the center on shaky financial ground. CASS covers all operating and maintenance costs on the building even though it is city-owned.

The city eventually stepped in and provided $50,000 in emergency funding to keep the center open, and is in the process of approving a new, no-cost lease with CASS for the city-owned facility that will let the nonprofit rent out the building's second floor as a revenue source. Sittenfeld, however, says there need to be more structural changes to the way the city funds organizations like CASS so the senior center doesn't find itself in the same position again.

"What we do not want is to be back in the same situation year after year," Sittenfeld said at a news conference this week at the senior center announcing the human services legislation.

In the last three years, it has received no money from the city as focus for human services funding has shifted to other areas, including workforce development. That funding, which is allocated to service organizations with advice from the United Way, has in the past few years been set aside for violence prevention, addressing homelessness and workforce development.

Sittenfeld's legislation adds senior services as another priority for funding dollars. Sittenfeld also says that recent legislation should make the pot of money spent on human services bigger, meaning more to go around for organizations working on a number of issues.

CASS CEO Tracey Collins says the city funding was important because it provided a match to federal dollars. She applauded the effort to restore that funding.

"We're not asking for millions of dollars," she said. "We used to get $116,000 a year."

Council member David Mann joined his colleagues in voting for the legislation, but pointed out that Sittenfeld's legislation doesn't automatically address the Senior Center's long-term funding issues and said that council could also vote to include other priorities in the future.