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Queens shortchanged on fresh produce vouchers: Vallone

Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. is calling on the city to create a mobile unit to deliver vouchers for fresh produce to Queens residents, since the borough does not have its own district health center.
By Nathan Duke

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) is calling on the city to create a mobile office that would provide residents with vouchers for fresh produce since Queens is one of two boroughs in the city that does not have a district office where residents can receive the coupons.

Vallone said a number of borough residents are not able to take part in the city's Health Bucks program, which distributes $2 food vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables to residents from district public health offices in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan, because Queens does not have its own public health center.

“Once again, Queens gets the short end of the stick,” he said. “There's a city program that's supposed to help people who need healthy food the most get it and it doesn't exist in Queens.”

The councilman wrote a letter to the city Department of Health in late July in which he proposed sending a van to the borough to distribute the vouchers to residents.

“I understand, with budget concerns, we may not be able to set up a center in Queens in the near future,” he said. “But at a minimum we should have a mobile van distributing these coupons. We shouldn't make people who need fresh food jump through hoops and travel to other boroughs to get coupons.

The city's Health Department could not be reached for comment.

A recent city study found that nearly 200,000 Queens families enrolled for Medicaid are also eligible for food stamps, but do not receive the government subsidies.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of eligible families not receiving food stamps are in Elmhurst, Corona, Flushing, Glendale, Woodside and Ridgewood.

Joel Berg, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger executive director, said Queens desperately needs a program that would offer vouchers to its residents.

“It has one of the fastest growing rates of hunger and poverty in the city,” he said of the borough. “There's a general belief that Queens is a solidly middle class borough that overlooks poverty. But I think we should expand this program to every neighborhood that needs them, including Queens.”

Quinn said the city would place information about food stamp eligibility in newspaper coupon packets.

Staten Island also does not have a public health office.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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