Jamaica residents have been hit with a barrage of problems due to the state’s recession. Job losses, thousands of home foreclosures and depleted health services have been lingering in the minds and lives of residents over the last few years.
In a special town hall meeting last week, Gov. David Paterson took time to hear each and every one of those concerns and give his ideas on how to tackle those issues.
Before the governor began taking questions from a crowd of nearly 700 people at the St. Albans Congregational Church Dec. 8, he reminded the audience that the state is facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and as a result the government has had to make serious sacrifices for New York to stay afloat.
“The problem is New York is the epicenter of the global financial crisis,” he said.
Despite the multibillion-dollar state budget deficit, Paterson said New York is better off that some of the other states in the country. He noted that California’s bond rating is nearly at the junk bond level and Arizona is mulling a sale of its legislative buildings.
Paterson said the budget cuts that were approved last week to various services helped the state avoid similar fates.
“Sometimes you make the tough choices, but I think in this whole situation, there has been more discussion about what the political consequences would be to make the tough choices by the Legislature and the governor and not what the consequences would be to hard-working New Yorkers if the choices were not made,” he said.
Paterson said he has been keen to make sure government did not take anything away from the residents who have been affected the most by the recession. He noted he increased the amount of welfare allocation funding and food stamps to needy New Yorkers.
“We know there is a recession, but we are practicing fairness,” he said.
Acting fair, however, does not mean acting recklessly, according to the governor.
Resident Bob Williams asked Paterson why he has not used the state’s “rainy day fund” to close the budget gap. The governor said the fund is meant only for dire emergencies, such as natural disasters, and if he had to use it, he would be continuing the trend of wasteful financial actions that got the state in the recession in the first place.
“I want to get us out of this culture that’s driving us into higher and higher debt,” he said.
The governor later remarked that his administration has worked hard to curb the other major cause of the recession: the home foreclosure crisis. A rise in subprime loans for properties in southeast Queens, such as Jamaica, St. Albans and Springfield Gardens, has made the area the leader in the state for the number of foreclosures.
Paterson touted his legislation that was signed last Thursday that requires a judge to hear from homeowners who may have been victims of predatory lending.
“From now on there will be a hearing to allow the borrower the opportunity to state in an administrative proceeding what it is he or she thinks was done illegally or improperly to lose their home and there will be a ruling on that,” Paterson said to a cheering crowd.
Not everyone was happy with the state’s actions to help southeast Queens. Ruth Bryan of Southeast Queens Concerned Neighbors, asked the governor what he was going to do about the health situation in the area.
Since Mary Immaculate and St. John’s Hospitals closed in March, other medical centers in the borough have had difficulties dealing with the influx of patients.
Paterson said the closures were the result of corruption by the administrators of Caritas, the defunct parent company that ran the hospitals.
“They refused to answer questions during a bankruptcy hearing,” he said of Caritas.
Paterson reminded the audience that he has given extra funding to several centers across the borough, including the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center, as a way of easing the health care problem and his staff is hard at work at coming up with more solutions.
“We are aware of it and we are going to address it as best as we can,” the governor said of the health care shortage.