Chinese Seniors Staying Away From Social Services?

Practicing tai chi at Queens Community House in Rego Park (Photo from Queens Community House via World Journal)

As the Trump administration announced new policies to crack down on the abuse of public welfare, many Chinese seniors who came to the U.S. to live with their adult children and help to take care of their grandchildren are staying away from the benefits that they are qualified for, worried that they would become a “burden to the public” otherwise. At a recent town hall meeting with Mayor Bill de Blasio in Rego Park, Yanhai Wan, a bilingual case manager at Queens Community House, called for the city government to offer more culturally relevant information to help seniors in ethnic communities who are worried that claiming welfare benefits would affect their immigration status.

Wan said many Chinese seniors participate in the activities the Queens Community House offers, including English classes, poker games and tai chi. Often, many of them would ask him for information on applying for public assistance. Ever since President Trump launched a series of immigration-related executive orders, Wan has found that many seniors decline to give their names and contact information when they come to ask about welfare benefits. About one-third of seniors who inquired about such matters said they are worried about becoming a “burden to the public” or having their green cards revoked. Some no longer come for the activities due to concerns about their immigration status.

Wan said in New York City, anyone who is 60 or above can attend the activities in senior centers for free as long as they can provide documents to prove their age. It doesn’t matter whether they are a citizen or not. Many senior centers in the city don’t have adequate Chinese-language services. So it is hard for Chinese seniors to get timely and accurate information on public assistance. Therefore, there are many misunderstandings.

Queens Community House runs five senior centers. Eighty percent of the members at the Rego Park location where Wan works are Chinese. But there are only two Chinese-speaking staff members who sometimes have to work at the other centers as well.

Wan, who said he would like to help raise the voices of minority communities, asked the mayor to allocate funding to conduct a survey among seniors in ethnic communities about their knowledge and thoughts on welfare, and to launch programs protecting their rights. He said what’s badly needed is information about welfare policies, senior rights and health in multiple languages. He also called on the city to hire bilingual staff to serve the growing population of ethnic seniors in the neighborhoods that traditionally have not had large minority populations.

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