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QICA talks federal, state senior issues

Amid threats to social programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and with ongoing concerns over affordable housing, transportation and proper nutrition, the Queens Interagency Council on Aging held its annual Legislative Forum last Friday at Borough Hall, drawing a capacity crowd.

Those on hand heard the projected needs of the growing senior population, outlined in the council’s position paper and presented by QICA President Barry Klitsberg, who wrote that Queens seniors must forcefully oppose any federal proposal to curb entitlements.

“Last year’s election demonstrated that many elected officials intend to roll back social programs including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the Affordable Care Act, which provides enhanced services to Medicare beneficiaries,” Klitsberg wrote. “All members of our community, especially seniors, must make their voices heard.

“New reforms should be enacted that give all Americans coverage similar to Medicare,” he added, “which has been proven to be the most efficient health care insurance in the country.”

While not diving headfirst into the Medicare-for-all debate, about a dozen elected officials and community leaders offered words of encouragement at the gathering.

“We really had a wonderful year in terms of budgeting,” said Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens), indicating that the city included over $20 million in new funding for seniors.

While he said Access-a-Ride “continues to be a plague,” he indicated that the Council has been discussing funding for taxis and other for-hire vehicles.

“There is a movement on that,” he said. “We’re hoping we will be able to move in that direction quickly.”

And Klitsberg said, with many seniors relying on the borough’s food pantries, the past two years have seen a 65 percent increase in the amount of funding available for that purpose, from $11 million to $18.2 million.

“It’s still not enough but I am determined that nobody should go hungry in the greatest city on the planet,” he said.

Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Park), a freshman legislator, addressed both the “transportation desert” and “housing emergency” facing her constituents, promising she will be a “fresh new voice in this conversation.”

Regarding those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) promised that in the next legislative session he will be looking to see where an increase in funding for certain services will come from, admitting that “funding is always difficult to find.”

And on the “inequities in the borough in property taxes,” he indicated that “ideas are floating about to overhaul property taxes,” including a so-called circuit breaker.

“If your property taxes continue to go up but your income doesn’t continue to rise,” he explained, “once your income hits a certain level, a circuit breaker would cap how much property tax you’d have to pay. That’s something I’d like to insert.”

Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) expressed concern with Medicare fraud that he said exists in some adult day care centers. There is a scam going on, he said, with centers competing against each other and offering incentives to draw people in.

“There are so many good operators that are providing amazing services that are being undermined by these bad operators.”

Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) said among her constituents, the “number one request” is housing for everyone, not just seniors. She indicated that the Assembly “is working very hard to … direct resources to take care of our communities.”

Admitting that “we already have transportation issues,” she suggested that Move NY, a proposed plan for improving the city’s transportation system, does not address the borough’s problems comprehensively. “You cannot talk about putting more of a burden on Queens residents without taking care of our dilapidated bus system and our trains,” she said.

Department for the Aging Commissioner Donna Corrado told the audience that there are “a lot of wonderful things going on in NYC,” suggesting that “somehow we’re not getting the message out.”

“We have to find ways to support people that have Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias related to living longer.”

Efforts are being made, Corrado said, to eliminate waiting lists for home-delivered meals and for home care, points touched on by Public Advocate Letitia James.

“We now have more funding for seniors waiting to receive home care,” James said. “We wanted to end the waiting list for seniors waiting to receive home care because home care is a requirement, not a luxury, and now that waiting list has been reduced significantly as a result of the resources we received.”

In one of the morning’s more shocking moments, James announced that seniors “are having a lot of sex,” making them “one of the fastest growing groups who are contracting sexually transmitted diseases.” And, she said, “more and more seniors are contracting the HIV/Aids virus.”

In her opening remarks, Borough President Melinda Katz acknowledged that senior advocacy groups are among the strongest and most vocal groups in the city.

“Queens is growing,” she said “We need to make sure that we all work together.”

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