2013-04-10 / Front Page

UCCA, Simotas Hold Town Hall

BY RICHARD GENTILVISO


Assemblymember Aravella Simotas and the United Community Civic Association (UCCA) discuss the state and city budget and gun legislation at their first annual Town Hall meeting held at the Museum of the Moving Image on April 4. 
Photo Vinny DuPre Assemblymember Aravella Simotas and the United Community Civic Association (UCCA) discuss the state and city budget and gun legislation at their first annual Town Hall meeting held at the Museum of the Moving Image on April 4. Photo Vinny DuPre Assemblymember Aravella Simotas and the United Community Civic Association (UCCA) held their first annual Town Hall meeting to address community concerns on April 4.

Moderated by UCCA President Rose Marie Poveromo, the assemblymember set the tone at the outset of the evening, saying, “The Town Hall event is all about bringing government to you, making sure constituents have the ability to interact with government to ask hard questions and get answers.”

Queens Gazette publisher and Editor Tony Barsamian kicked off the three hourplus open forum held at the Museum of the Moving Image before a panel of federal, state and local government agency representatives.

 “There is a growing senior population throughout Astoria, people are living longer and need medical and social programs,” said Barsamian. “With the 2013-14 budget in place, what can we expect next year, what programs?”

Simotas replied, “This is an important question and an important concern. We have, as you all know, a very, very large population of seniors.”


State Senator Michael Gianaris stands up for SAFE (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement) Act UCCA’s first annual Town Hall. State Senator Michael Gianaris stands up for SAFE (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement) Act UCCA’s first annual Town Hall. The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports average life expectancy is now almost 80 (78.7) years old.

The 2013-14 state budget went into effect on April 1 at $141.3 billion, or $135.1 billion excluding $5 billion in federal funding for Sandy relief efforts and $1 billion in federal funding for the implementation of the New York Health Benefit Exchange that will serve as a centralized marketplace for the purchase and sale of health insurance in accordance with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). It also closes a gap of $1.3 billion with no new taxes or fees.

“There are no real changes affecting senior citizens as in recent years past,” said Simotas. “This year we did not have to fight any budget cuts.”

In January, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s presented a $70 billion preliminary budget for the next fiscal year that begins July 1 and Darnley Jones, the Queens community outreach director for the city Department for the Aging (DFTA) said no budget cuts are planned. There are eight senior centers in Astoria’s Community Board 1.

However, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall has said the mayor’s preliminary budget discontinues $1.6 million of discretionary funding in her budget that is used for seniors.

“This funding supports dozens of senior programs across the borough (and) without it, six senior centers will close and four adult day care centers and transportation programs will cease,” said Marshall in a February 20 statement.

In response to a second question concerning Medicaid reductions for the handicapped, Jones said he did not have specific information but added that many cuts are coming.

DFTA will hold an orientation on April 19 in Astoria. For information, call 212-442-1079.

The state budget maintains a spending cap on Medicaid enacted in 2011-12 and achieved $58 million in savings from public health and aging programs through reforms, efficiency measures, and general cost control efforts.

In January, the SAFE (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement) Act, banning high capacity magazines and assault weapons and requiring background checks for all gun purchases among other provisions was passed one month after the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting. A speaker, noting both Simotas and state Senator Michael Gianaris voted in favor of the law said he believed the law is unconstitutional and made particular weapons and accessories illegal for law-abiding citizens.

“How does (SAFE) affect the criminal?” he asked.

“I understand there’s a lot of strong feelings about this,” said Gianaris. “I do not believe (SAFE) is unconstitutional,” he said. “We did the best we could to get gun ownership out of the hands of people who should not have them.”

“(SAFE) was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support,” said Simotas. “We have a sincere hope that (SAFE) will stop the scourge of gun violence.”

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