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Queens seniors dependant on buses see drop in service

Once there they gather to play cards, drink coffee, and spend time with one another, something that many of them can only do at the senior center because many of them live alone and can no longer drive themselves.This may all be changing, according to a study released by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum. The study found that SNAP, and many other agencies throughout the five boroughs, have the vans and buses needed to continue supplying rides to seniors but lack the funds to pay for fuel, insurance, and maintenance."There are vans," Gotbaum told the group of 200 seniors gathered at the center. "There's just no money."Gotbaum's study found that 20 percent of the 36 senior transportation providers surveyed in New York City have vans that sit idle because they are short of funds. Four of these transportation providers are in Queens, including SNAP.Lending their support to increase the amount of funds provided by the budget were state Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck) and City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis), who both spoke at SNAP last Thursday."We know this is a problem," said Mark Weprin. "We're here to address this."Many seniors at the center spoke about the importance of the vans and buses providing transportation to and from the senior center."The van is a lifeline for each and every one of us," said Ida Shear. "It would be impossible to get here without the van.""I take the bus every morning and take it home in the afternoon," said Mary Cira, who has lived in Floral Park since 1957. "I love being here with people." She added that the drivers of the vans pull into her driveway and help her get in and out, something that city buses are unable to do."The van is there when I need it," said Cira. "The drivers are very helpful." David Weprin took aim at Mayor Michael Bloomberg for not increasing funding for senior programs and also said the mayor has falsely claimed he has not cut money from that portion of the proposed city budget. David Weprin contended the mayor is using figures from the originally proposed budget from last year to compare funding in the current budget proposal. He maintained that money was added to last year's budget after the original proposal and the mayor has reverted to comparing numbers from the proposed budget rather than the actual budget."He may tell you there are no cuts in the budget for senior centers," said David Weprin. "But that's not true."David Weprin told the seniors at the center there are ways they can help raise awareness about the issue by writing letters and showing up at City Hall to make their voices heard. Gotbaum's study stated without additional funding from the city through the Department of the Aging, the center will be forced to "do more with less.""The good news is it's an election year," said David Weprin. Reach reporter Peter A. Sutters Jr. by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-22-0300 Ext 173.

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