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Officials pitch lotto game to fund boro’s nonprofits

State Assemblyman David Weprin (front l.) and state Sen. Tony Avella (front r.) gather with representatives from various nonprofits calling for a new lottery game to help fund programs. Photo by Steve Mosco
TimesLedger Newspapers

Elected officials are hoping they found a jackpot solution to funding some of the borough’s foundering community programs.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) joined dozens of representatives from nonprofits and community groups on the steps of Queens Borough Hall to rally in support of legislation to create a new lottery scratch-off game with proceeds strictly dedicated to a new Community Grant Fund.

“Youth groups, senior centers, cultural organizations and Little Leagues provide essential services and rely on discretionary funding to survive,” said Avella. “These groups certainly are not pork.”

Avella said since 2010, the state executive branch has eliminated discretionary funds that could be used to fund programs in legislators’ districts. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said these funds were eliminated to guard against legislators funding pet projects — or pork.

But Avella said the loss of these funds places tremendous financial burden on groups relying on supportive funding to provide vital services to residents.

“With declining sources of funding, these groups need a dedicated Community Grant Fund,” he said.

One group Avella cited in particular was the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Community Center, which has been in operation providing social and recreational programs to senior citizens for more than 25 years. The senator said the center would be forced to close next year if it does not receive any additional funding.

That center, along with other organizations — including the Queens County Farm Museum, the Poppenhusen Institute in College Point and Queens Chapter 32 of the Vietnam Veterans of America, along with many others — called on the governor to do his part to save the city’s fundamental institutions.

“Veterans need some sort of help from the state,” said Paul Narson, president of Queens Chapter 32 of the Vietnam Veterans of America. “Gov. Cuomo has put the kibosh on our money and if we don’t get the money already promised to us for 2010 and we don’t get the money in the 2013 budget, we may have to shut down the services we provide for veterans and their families.”

Weprin said it is incumbent upon elected officials during tough financial times to think of creative solutions to keep community groups afloat.

“We have to look outside of the box to create new sources of revenue to help our community-based, nonprofit organizations that are struggling to keep their doors open,” he said. “This bill is about finding solutions and, as far as I’m concerned, this is one of the most important parts of my job as an assemblyman.”

Both Weprin and Avella said they would be fine if the governor wanted to take full credit for the bill as long as a stream of revenue is directed to the community groups most in need of help.

“We need a government that works on behalf of the people of the state,” said Avella. “And this is a time when government can do that.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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