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Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez introduces Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to the audience at All Saints Episcopal Church in Woodhaven on March 3.

Throughout most of 2017, Woodhaven resident Allan Smith received physical therapy for severe nerve damage in his right arm after a fall in his apartment left him lying on the floor, wedged between his bed and dresser for two days.

When he reached the cap on what his Medicare would pay for, Smith was told to take a break from the therapy until the new year began.

Smith, 79, is still barely able to move his arm, and after one month of therapy in 2018, his cap for the year has already been reached. The new federal tax bill led to budget cuts for Medicare, and on March 3, Smith walked into All Saints Episcopal Church in Woodhaven to voice his case to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and a group of Queens representatives and tax experts.

“I can’t do certain things. I can’t open my fingers. I can’t raise my arm above my head, and I want to get better,” Smith told QNS after the meeting. “If this is considered severe, and it is, then there should be some means of taking that into account.”

The panel discussion that Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez hosted included Pelosi, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Congressman Joe Crowley, Charles Khan from the Strong Economy for All Coalition, Jonas Shaende from the Fiscal Policy Institute, and Tracey Kavanagh, a registered nurse who serves on the board of directors of the New York State Nurses Association.

The tax bill signed into law on Dec. 22, 2017, leads to automatic federal funding cuts of $400 billion over the next decade. In the fiscal year 2018, $136 billion of those cuts will come into play, and $25 billion is required to come from Medicare. Pelosi’s fundamental message to the audience was that these cuts, which also spread to public education, food stamps and public housing, do not resonate with American values.

“We have a moral responsibility to do the right thing by the budget for our country, for our strength, and most importantly for our children,” said Pelosi, who served as the nation’s first female Speaker of the House between 2007 and 2011. “It’s all about the future. This is a budget that takes us backwards. It is not a statement of values.”

Pelosi and Crowley emphasized that if the Democrats regain the majority in the House of Representatives, they will repeal and replace the tax bill.

In total, the tax law will create a deficit of at least $1.5 trillion that will be made up by cutting budgets to federal programs. According to Khan, these cuts will be seen in the form of grandparents getting kicked out of nursing homes, people dying from preventable diseases, bigger classroom sizes in schools and more people going hungry.

Khan also pointed out that New Yorkers will be particularly affected by a provision in the law that limits the amount of deductible property taxes to $10,000. That means that every penny over that $10,000 limit will essentially be taxed twice, Khan said. According to Hochul, there are approximately 3.3 million people in New York who pay higher property taxes than that.

“In effect, you now make it more expensive to own a house in the state of New York, and you have now created incentive to drive people from our state,” Hochul said. “With that fell swoop, they’ve undone all of our efforts to control costs in the state of New York, reduce taxes and make it a better place to live and work.”

For Smith, his only option to receive more treatment for his arm in 2018 will be to pay for it privately. As the sun shined through the stained glass windows around the church, Smith began to talk about its long history and pointed to where he was baptized only a few feet away from the pew. Where his life practically began, he was now fighting for his future.

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