By ZINA PASCHAL

The Commissioner of the City Department for the Aging and city council members strongly criticized the transportation services given to the elderly at a hearing to discuss the department’s preliminary budget at City Hall Tuesday.

“Access-A-Ride needs a lot of improvement,” said Commissioner Donna Corrado as the elders in the audience applauded vigorously.

Council members also voiced concerns about the service. saying that the company sent sometimes sent passengers five miles from their homes to be picked up instead of closer and more convenient sites. Access-A-Ride officials would then justify the long distance by saying that the nearer places were full, witnesses said.

To better allocate transportation for the elderly, Corrado promised to “expand the hours of their employees with Access-A-Ride.” She also said that it was “unacceptable” for passengers to have to show up two and a half hours early to get to a destination five miles away.

While the program is run by the MTA, Corrado offered suggestions for improvement.

“I’d like to take it a step further and develop alternative transportation models so that we can prepare ourselves to other programs other than Access-A-Ride,” said Corrado.

Corrado and Assistant Commissioner for Budget and Fiscal Operations Joy Wang asked Chairperson Margaret Chin and Chairperson Paul A. Vallone for an additional $4 million for fiscal year 2015 to reduce caseloads, better allocate transportation and meals, and provide affordable housing for the elderly.

The commissioner also expressed concern with food allocations for the elderly and eligibility for the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program.

“We have seen more food insecurity in the number of seniors attending food pantries over the past several years,” said Corrado. “One of the issues is a lack of access in enrollment in benefits for SNAP.”

According to statistics, “one in three seniors experiences food insecurity and yet, only about 50 percent of eligible seniors participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program citywide.” The Department for the Aging has set up special outreach programs to sign old people up for food stamps.

“Citymeals-on-Wheels is requesting a restoration grant in the amount of $1 million…to deliver meals to the homes of our oldest neighbors on Saturdays and Sundays,” said Rachel Sherrow, Chief Program Officer.

The organization also asked for an additional $1 million grant to accommodate the additional 800 meals on wheels clients and to “ensure enough emergency food boxes for recipients during inclement weather.”

The priority of the Department for the Aging is to keep seniors safe, and to provide them with the proper services that are needed to ensure a healthy life.