State Legislature signs Simotas’s baby box bill

IMG_9697 copyThe New York State Assembly and State Senate have both passed Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas’s bill to establish a “Newborn Health and Safety Pilot” program, also known as the “baby box bill.”

The goal of the legislation is to reduce infant mortality in New York by giving safe, portable sleeping spaces (literally baby boxes) for infants six months or younger, in areas in the state where infant mortality rates are high.

“This is a low-tech, inexpensive, yet highly effective way to save babies’ lives,” Simotas said.

Each baby box has a firm mattress with a fitted sheet. They are meant to discourage high-risk behaviors.

The boxes also come with essential baby care items and educational information for new parents.

“We cannot ignore the reality for some new families where sleep deprivation and exhaustion, coupled with lack of money to afford a crib, means their babies are put to sleep in risky ways,” Simotas said.

The bill now goes to the governor to be signed into law.


Queens Council on the Arts’ latest grant will commission new artwork


Photo courtesy/Queens Council on the Arts

Queens Council on the Arts announced today that the Scherman Foundation has awarded its Rosin Fund, a multiyear grant totaling $300,000, to support a new commissioning program to support Queens artists.

Artists from Jackson Heights and Jamaica will create new works of theatre, dance and music.

“We are grateful to the Scherman Foundation who share our vision of giving people access to a historically privileged process of determining what is art and supporting original work that reflects the untold stories of diverse cultures that contribute to the American canon,” said executive director Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer.

QCA is now issuing a call to Queens residents to participate in the year-long process of selecting, commissioning and building relationships with artists.

Four artists will be chosen to create a performance that will be presented in June 2018.



Astoria Park Fireworks on June 29

DCtXYpsXUAAS6Dk.jpg-largeIt’s an Astoria tradition we never forget, and we hope you won’t either.

The annual fireworks display at Astoria Park will take place on Thursday, June 29. The evening will begin with a special performance by the Queen Symphony Orchestra, which will be followed by the Grucci fireworks display.

The annual event is put on by the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition.

The fireworks typically happens a little after 9 p.m.

Be sure to find parking early because traffic will hit a snag when all the thousands of viewers flood to Astoria Park.


Gianaris introduces “Better Trains, Better Cities” Plan

IMG_1637If Governor Cuomo can’t save the MTA, maybe the State Legislature can.

State Senator Michael Gianaris introduced a plan this week to address what appears to be constant delays, signal problems and other commuting headaches.

His “Better Trains, Better Cities” legislation will establish an emergency manager to oversee maintenance and operation of MTA trains. It will also create a temporary, dedicate revenue stream to fund urgent repairs.

The Assembly sponsor is Danny O’Donnell.

“The dismal state of our mass transit is as much of a crisis today as rampant crime was decades ago, and it requires the same attention and dedication of resources to solve.”

The legislation is modeled after the “Safe Streets, Safe City” program that he said reduce high crime rates in the 1990s. Like its predecessor, Better Trains, Better Cities would expire after a certain point (in this case, three years).

The emergency manager would be nominated by Governor Cuomo and confirmed separately by the Assembly and State Senate. The appointee must be confirmed within 90 days of his or her nomination.

How will the revenue stream be funded? Gianaris wants to create a “temporary 3-year surcharge on personal income taxes for those in the MTA region earning more than $1 million annually as well as on New York City hotel/motel taxes.”

The personal income tax surcharge would be gradual, running up from those earning between $1 million to $5 million, $5 million to $10 million and over $10 million.

And the hotel/motel tax would add a $5 fee to the current tax.

We can’t imagine this will go over well with the wealthy in our city, but Gianaris believes this will raise more than $2 billion annually for desperately-needed repairs.

We can’t even imagine this passing the State Senate, but it’s worth a shot. At this point, our government needs fresh ideas to fix this crisis.


District 30 added to middle school college access program

PS 122Community Education District 30 middle schools will be added to the College Access for All program for the 2017-2018 school year.

Through College Access for All, middle school students have the opportunity to visit a college campus in the 7th grade. The schools also receive funding and materials to engage students and families about college culture.

“This is one more step in our path to College Access for All, regardless of students’ background or whether their parents attended college,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina.

“As a first-generation college student myself, I understand the importance of building awareness early so that students can envision their own path to, and success in, college and careers.”

The expansion will include 193 new schools, in addition to the 171 schools already participating. That means 44,000 7th graders will now have an opportunity to visit a college campus next year.

“The expansion of the College Access for All program will bring much needed resources and exposure for both parents and students to make the best informed decision about their academic careers after high school,” said Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan.




Here’s how the city budget impacts Astoria

Costa_City_CouncilYou’ve probably heard by now that the City Council passed the budget for Fiscal Year 18, the earliest they’ve achieved this in 25 years.

But how does the budget, your tax dollars, come back to the neighborhood?

Councilman Costa Constantinides laid out the following projects, initiatives and programs that is included in the budget.

  • Environmental Sustainability
    • Constantinides and Borough President Melinda Katz allocated a total of $1.1 million for solar panels at PS 122,
    • Designated $300,000 with Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas for installing solar panels at Queens Library’s Steinway branch (this was part of participatory budgeting),
    • The City Council expanded Greener NYC to $3 million
  • Health Care
    • Constantinides secured $1.8 million for a new acute stroke center at Mount Sinai Queens.
  • Youth
    • Allocated $160,000 each at PS 84 and IS 126 for hydroponic science labs,
    • Iinvested $900,000 for tech upgrades at all district schools.
  • Hallets Peninsula
    • Constantinides and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito funded $3 million in improvements to Hallets Cove Playground,
    • Constantinides and Katz also dished out $2 million to upgrade Whitey Ford Field.
    • Designated $1 million for upgraded lighting at Astoria Houses parking lot and new closed-circuit TV cameras inside stairwells,
    • Invested more funding (totaling $600,000) for Astoria Houses basketball court.
  • Libraries
    • Secured $3 million to transform the Queens Library’s Astoria branch, including making the building ADA accessible, improving the children’s room and other upgrades.
  • Sanitation
    • The City Council expanded its NYC Cleanup initiative by $2.4 million,
    • Allocated $250,000 for sidewalk cleaning and graffiti removal from the initiative.

“We are proud to invest in our children, our public spaces and our community’s health,” Constantinides said. “This budget will make our neighborhood more sustainable, improve healthcare, give students the resources they need in our public schools and libraries and bring much-needed funding to Hallets Peninsula.


Astoria March to host Real Politics 101 workshop

Astoria MarchLooking for a way to learn about New York City and state politics?

Astoria March, a local organization launched in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election and inauguration, is hosting a Civics 101 workshop on Sunday, June 25th at 6 p.m. Bohemian Hall.

The workshop will be led by Ben Yee, a state committeemen in Manhattan and a Democratic Party operative.

You’ll learn about political geography, the party structure in the U.S. and information about women’s reproductive rights legislation.

To learn more about the event, check out their Facebook event here.

RSVP on Eventbrite here.