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Forest Hills nonprofit slams budget cut proposals

Slashes in state aid proposed by Gov. David Paterson would devastate youth and senior programs in the borough, employees of Forest Hills−based Queens Community House said last week.

Several of the nonprofit’s programs would be eliminated if current budget cut proposals are enacted, including eviction prevention and senior day care programs. Queens Community House serves about 20,000 people annually in neighborhoods throughout Queens, including Forest Hills, Astoria, Rego Park, Jamaica, Ozone Park, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Flushing and Kew Gardens.

Queens Community House employees railed against the budget moves, saying the cuts would leave some of the area’s most vulnerable populations with no support systems.

“Here we are at a time when the economy’s bottoming, people are losing their jobs, homes are going into foreclosure and the government’s cutting a program that’s cost−effective and really works,” said Christine Roland, who runs the nonprofit’s program that prevents more than 1,000 evictions a year and is slated for elimination.

In order to retain these programs and others, Abbate and other high−ranking employees at Queens Community House recently called on Paterson to raise taxes on rich New Yorkers in lieu of trimming human services.

“Why isn’t the governor asking the wealthiest New Yorkers to share in the sacrifice?” asked Mary Abbate, assistant executive director of community services at Queens Community House. “He’s proposed devastating cuts to youth programs, senior centers, homelessness prevention programs and so many other vital services while the richest New Yorkers are paying the same income taxes as a family making $40,000 a year.”

Queens Community House officials are not alone in their attack. More than 50,000 city residents rallied March 5 in front of City Hall against Paterson’s budget.

The governor has proposed closing a $15 billion state budget gap by making large cuts in areas like education and health care. Other cuts have been proposed to programs such as senior services, disability services, housing assistance and crisis intervention programs.

Protesters have asked Paterson to raise state taxes for New Yorkers making $250,000 or more — a move the governor has criticized, saying it would drive wealthier residents from the state.

Should state lawmakers approve the governor’s budget, Queens Community House’s “Time Away” program, a 22−year−old day care for seniors who are too frail to attend a regular senior center, would be wiped out.

“They receive physical therapy there, and it keeps them intellectually and physically stimulated,” Abbate said. “These are folks diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, folks who are too frail to participate in a senior center, but who should still be connected to the community.”

The group’s youth outreach services, which for more than 20 years has aided lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth and the eight−year−old Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, which supports homebound seniors, are also at risk of elimination because of city budget cuts.

Queens Community House will help to host a community forum to protest Paterson’s proposed budget at JHS 190 in Forest Hills March 12 at 6 p.m.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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