Thursday, June 18, 2009

Child Hunger, Upstate Drilling and Maspeth Burglaries Discussed at CB 5

By Conor Greene

At its monthly meeting last week, Community Board 5 members discussed a wide range of issues, including child hunger, a push to drill for natural gas upstate, and a pattern of burglaries in Maspeth.

Child Hunger Awareness

Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside), who is running for city public advocate this fall, took a few minutes to discuss an issue he said residents won’t see on television or read about in the daily newspaper – “hunger, especially child hunger, in New York City.”

When Gioia was first elected eight years ago, hunger “was not an issue I thought I would be working on a lot.” That changed when he heard a story of a young boy whose teacher rewarded him with gold stars for outstanding work. After receiving several gold stars, he told his teachers, “What I really want is an orange.”

Gioia said that simple story opened his eyes to a widespread problem he says is disguised by the childhood obesity epidemic. “It was hard to believe that an orange is a treat in this city,” he said of the student. “It is a real issue in New York City, right in our neighborhoods.” He pointed out that the obesity issue is really just “a different side of the same coin” since poor families often turn to fast food that is high in fat for cheap meals.

Several years ago, Gioia lived on food stamps for a week to draw attention to how little support that program offered. His allotment - $28.36 at the time – only lasted five days, forcing him to turn to a food pantry for the rest of his meals. He then successfully lobbied legislators in Washington, D.C to raise the amount allotted per week.

However, despite those gains, only 1.1 million of the 2 million city residents who qualify for food stamps take advantage of the program. That means 400,000 city children who are eligible are not enrolled, according to Gioia, who says there are two main reasons the program is under-utilized: bureaucratic red tape, and a lack of awareness among working parents who don’t realize they qualify.

To reduce the red tape, Gioia worked to have the application shortened from 24 pages to two pages. “That’s a big deal,” he argued, as 200,000 more people have signed up since that change was implemented. To increase awareness, Gioia is visiting every community board in the city and a host of other groups to spread awareness. The program is not just for the unemployed, as those who make less than $24,000 a year and have children generally can take advantage of food stamps. “I promise you that it applies to people you know,” whether in church, civic groups or in the neighborhood, said Gioia.

He asked every person in the crowd to mention the issue and requirements to at least one other person. “This is a moral issue – kids in our city are not getting enough to eat,” he said. In addition, the program is federally funded, meaning that the city is currently not taking full advantage of the money. One billion more dollars would pour into the city economy if every eligible resident signed up, according to Gioia.

Concerns Over Upstate Natural Gas Drilling

At several points during the meeting, the issue of drilling for natural gas upstate was discussed, as there is concern about the impact the process could have on the city’s drinking water supply.

Buck Moorhead of the group NY H2O informed residents about the “imminent drilling for natural gas” in portions of upstate New York. The procedure, known as hydrofracking, was pioneered by Halliburton and involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the earth in order to draw the gas to the surface. The practice is growing in popularity after the Bush Administration approved an exemption in 2005 allowing it. “It’s a very serious risk” to the state’s water supply, said Moorhead, adding that his group is seeking a ban on the process.

The board’s district manager, Gary Giordano, also expressed concern about hydrofracking during his report later in the meeting. “There’s a lot of big money involved here,” he said, adding that a second Environmental Impact Statement on the process is due later this month. He called this the “most frightening situation I know of on a large scale that affects New York City.”

Giordano urged board members, elected officials and the public to “not make it easy for the people seeking potentially big profits to destroy our water system.”

Board member Brian Dooley, who chairs the environmental services committee, said his group will present a resolution against the practice next month for the full board to consider. He compared the situation upstate, with landowners in rural areas seeking to cash in on quick profits, to a gold rush. “It’s going to be a monumental environmental disaster if it’s allowed to go on,” he said. “The problem is, there is big money involved.”

Poor Police Response to Maspeth Burglaries

Board member Eileen Maloney warned of an increase of residential burglaries “in our community, especially Maspeth.” Her home was broken into in the middle of the day three weeks ago by a man who kicked in the front door, she said.

Adding insult to injury, Maloney said it took more than three hours for officers from the 104th Precinct to respond to her son’s 911 call. Worse, detectives showed up at 1:30 a.m. to dust for fingerprints. “Needless to say, they never got the burglar,” said Maloney, adding that her attempts to get updates about the investigation have been unsuccessful.

”I was told they only had four cars on duty that day and they were all elsewhere,” she said. “This is a very, very serious condition we’re suffering through right now –there definitely is some sort of group out there. They’re professionals and know who to hit.”

Maloney said she is working with Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s office to establish a neighborhood block watch in Maspeth. Board Chairman Vincent Arcuri noted that the Glendale Civilian Observation Patrol should be able to assist since it already patrols that area and is always looking for new recruits.

Editor’s Note: Check next week’s Forum West for a report on additional issues discussed at the June Community Board 5 meeting.

Photos: Councilman Eric Gioia discusses child hunger, before Buck Moorhead (left) informs the crowd about possible drilling for natural gas upstate. The Forum Newsgroup/photos by CONOR GREENE

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