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Leaders protest senior cuts at Boro Hall

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Hundreds of seniors met with Queens leaders on the steps of Queens Borough Hall Friday morning to protest proposals by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to cut funding for senior centers and services.

The plans, which in combination could lead to the closing of 27 Queens senior centers, have led borough seniors and lawmakers to hold many similar rallies in recent weeks since they believe the cuts will have a severe impact on the quality of seniors’ lives. Borough President Helen Marshall said that if Bloomberg’s cutbacks are not restored, her discretionary funding for aging services will be eliminated, leading to the halting of other services, including vans she funds that many seniors rely on for transportation and meal delivery.

“I don’t remember a time since I have been serving in government that senior centers and services faced such devastating reductions,” Marshall said. “How about telling a homebound senior who receives a hot, nutritious meal at home every day that they won’t be eating on July 1 because the funding for the vehicle and the meal was eliminated?”

Seniors — as many as 300 in the estimation of Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik — from across the borough turned out to lend their support to the legislators fighting for them.

Gertrude McDonald of Forest Hills said she visits the Sunnyside Community Services senior center, at 43-31 39th St., nearly every single day where she eats and depends on it for the socialization opportunities it provides.

“It’s very important to keep these senior centers open,” she said at the protest. “Seniors live alone, they have no place to go and they eat lunch and do all their activities — especially bingo and dancing — at the centers. It’s so important that they get up in the morning and go out and get moving every day.”

Cuomo’s proposed budget makes huge cuts to Title XX funding, but the state Legislature has voted to restore a total of $150 million in Title XX monies, up to $25 million of which will be available for use to fund city senior centers.

Bloomberg’s proposed cuts to senior services for the fiscal year 2012 budget total more than $63 million, which many city council members are working to restore.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) made some jokes in his remarks, but said he wants to reassure everyone that the cuts would have harsh effects on seniors.

“Not that many people are affected by these cuts. Just seniors, people with family who are seniors, and people who are going to one day be seniors,” he said sarcastically. “This is a very serious issue, but it’s about serious money. People don’t live high on the hog at senior centers, especially the kosher ones.”

State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said the state’s and city’s executive leaders need to think of the suffering their proposals will cause.

“We want to say to the governor and the mayor, ‘Now it’s your turn. Do you part and restore funding to our senior centers,’” she said.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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