Congregate Meal Services for the Elderly

Issued Date
January 11, 2018
Aging, New York City Department for the


To determine whether the New York City Department for the Aging effectively oversees the provision of congregate meals (meals served in a group setting) in its senior centers. Our audit covered the three fiscal years ended June 30, 2016. Additionally, we conducted on-site observations and interviews at senior centers through March 7, 2017.


The New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) is the City agency primarily responsible for addressing public policy and service issues for the aging. DFTA’s mission is “to work to eliminate ageism and ensure the dignity and quality-of-life of New York City’s diverse older adults, and for the support of their caregivers through service, advocacy, and education.” DFTA’s planned spending for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2017 was approximately $342 million, including $216 million and $43 million in City and State funding, respectively, with the remainder from federal funds.

As of 2014, there were nearly 1.55 million adults aged 60 and older (defined as senior citizens) residing in New York City. This number is expected to increase to 1.86 million by 2040. The federal Older Americans Act requires the provision of various services for senior citizens, including access to nutrition, benefits counseling, employment opportunities, legal assistance, and in-home services. The majority of DFTA-funded services are provided through contracts with community-based organizations (sponsors). DFTA contracts with these sponsors to operate 246 senior centers throughout the five boroughs – many sponsors operate multiple senior centers. The senior centers are attended by nearly 30,000 individuals daily. For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2016, contracts with sponsors to operate these 246 senior centers were valued at $123 million. All senior centers provide congregate meals, various recreational and cultural activities, as well as information on, and assistance with, benefits. A contract indicates the number of budgeted congregate meals a sponsor is expected to provide. The utilization rate is the number of congregate meals actually provided by the sponsor divided by the number of budgeted meals.

Key Findings

  • We found that DFTA officials could not demonstrate that they contracted with optimally located senior centers to ensure the maximum number of eligible senior citizens can take advantage of the congregate meals being offered.
  • Prior to approving their contracts, DFTA did not perform any analysis to determine whether the costs submitted by sponsors were reasonable. For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2016, we compared the budgeted cost per meal for the 246 senior centers and found significant variations. Thirty-seven senior centers had per-meal costs between $3 and $6 while six had per-meal costs of over $15, with a high of $18.36 per meal. It is critical that DFTA assess equity in funding and analyze and compare the senior centers’ budgeted costs per meal and utilization rates to determine whether centers with lower budgeted costs can provide quality meals, and whether centers with higher costs are overcharging or operating inefficiently.
  • During the review of sponsors’ proposals, DFTA did not assess whether the proposed number of meals is reasonable in relation to the eligible senior citizen population in the district that will be served, or compare the proposed number of meals to the actual number of meals that were served during the prior year. We found that 95 of the 246 senior centers fell below the expected utilization rate of providing 85 percent of budgeted meals, with seven senior centers providing between 41 and 50 percent of budgeted meals. We determined that DFTA could have saved $1.6 million if 80 of the 95 underperforming senior centers were reimbursed based on their utilization rates rather than on claimed food costs for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2016.
  • DFTA needs to improve its oversight of senior centers. We reviewed the sponsors’ administrative costs for four randomly selected senior centers and found that one overstated its February 2016 invoice by $12,006, and may have received $120,570 in overpayments during the fiscal year ended June 30, 2016. Another submitted unpaid food costs from a prior vendor as part of its contract invoice so that the outstanding vendor bills could be paid. We also determined that, despite a requirement that sponsors be audited by DFTA and by an independent Certified Public Accountant, no audits were conducted at 40 of the 246 senior centers during the three fiscal years ended June 30, 2016. Additionally, DFTA does not have a formal policy for the nutritional assessment of the senior centers.

Key Recommendations

  • Ensure that contracts for senior centers are aligned with the needs of the City’s senior citizen population and maintain documentation supporting the rationale for these decisions.
  • Determine the appropriate number of budgeted congregate meals for each senior center based on the eligible population in the area and measure performance based on the percentage of meals actually served.
  • Immediately review the food costs for senior centers that provide less than the budgeted number of meals and determine whether claimed costs are reasonable.
  • Establish a mechanism to limit reimbursement when the utilization rate is below a set threshold for future contracts.

Other Related Audits/Reports of Interest


Kenrick Sifontes

State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director:Kenrick Sifontes
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email: [email protected]
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236