Congress at Comet Meet

Meng Talks Disaster Aid, Veterans Programs

Rep. Grace Meng dropped by the Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET) meeting Monday, May 13, to discuss legislation she’s introducing and learn more about the communities needs.

Meng gave the crowd an update after her first 100 days in office, telling constituents that she passed a bill allowing churches to benefit from federal disaster aid and is working on legislation to help veterans get the benefits their entitled to quicker.

Meng said the disaster relief bill means hundreds of houses of worship throughout the city can now access federal dollars to help them rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

She passed the bill with bi-partisan support, and during the COMET meeting, she took a minute to address gridlock in Washington.

She said an equal number of Republican and Democratic representaby tives were elected in November 2012’s contest, and many new representatives have formed a bi-partisan coalition called the United Solutions Caucas.

The even political distribution of congress’s freshman “bodes well for America,” she said.

The representative told residents she is hoping for comprehensive immigration reform by the end of the year, adding that may be a bit too optimistic.

Meng told COMET she is in the process of penning legislation that would hold local offices of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) accountable when vets have to wait for benefits.

She said servicemen and women in the city are waiting between 100 and 300 days to start collecting benefits. Her legislation would require VA offices submit written explanations when they are slow to payout to qualified recipients.

Residents asked Meng about “caller ID spoofing”-a scam where crooks alter the name that appears on victims’ caller IDs in order to impersonate organizations like banks and ask for personal information.

The technology that allows scammers to do this was initially intended for use as a novelty, noted COMET President Rosemarie Daraio.

Meng said she is working on a bill that would expand the statute limiting fraudulent misrepresentation- currently, there is a legal gray area when fraudsters misrepresent themselves via text message.

She told attendees that her office can help individuals report abuses like caller ID scamming.

Reporting instances of abuse to the Federal Communications Commission is important, because it give the agency a sense of how widespread the problem is, she said.

18-wheeler woes

Residents at the COMET complained that large trucks running off their routes are not being punished for using Maspeth Streets to get to other parts of Queens.

Semi trucks are using Grand and Flushing avenues to get to areas in eastern Queens even though those roads are only supposed to be used for local deliveries.

Capt. John Travaglia, who heads up the 104th Precinct’s Traffic Division, said there is a discrepancy between how law enforcement officials and judges interpret the law barring large trucks from using those streets.

He said the precinct is issueing summonses, but judges are letting truckers off the hook, because they have a broader interpretation of “local delivery.”

If a truck is going anywhere in Queens, judges contend the truck is making a local delivery, he said.

That means a truck headed for Flushing can cut through Maspeth and use streets not designated for trucks by the Department of Transportation (DOT) with relative impunity- even though officers are citing the off-route trucks, Travaglia said.

“When it comes to enforcement, we’re firing on all cylinders,” he said.

According to Travaglia, the difference in interpretation is causing problems for police, who can be pegged for issuing citations they know won’t hold up in court.

He said the DOT needs to meet with administrative judges to explain the burden their lax interpretation places on residents in affected areas.

Representatives of City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley told the Times Newsweekly on Tuesday, May 14, that the office would reach out to the judges.

Graffiti cleanup: Round two

Due to rain, the 104th Precinct could not finish its two-day graffiti cleanup last weekend, according to Capt. Christopher Manson, commanding officer of the precinct.

He said teams cleaned 250 of 800 identified sites Friday, May 10, but rain on Saturday put a damper on the remaining cleanup efforts.

Volunteers will be out in full force this weekend (May 18 and 19) to clean or re-paint the remaining sites.

So far, the precinct has made more than 150 graffiti-related arrests this year, he said.

Commuter vans continue

Manson also told residents his command will work with the adjacent 108th and 110th precincts, as well as the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to curb the number of commuter vans operating illegally in Maspeth.

Daraio noted the vans are not supposed to operate in the area, but that they stray from neighboring areas where they are allowed.

Travaglia said the TLC is responsible for enforcing laws against the vans’ presence.

He said the precinct can bust vans for traffic violations like failing to signal a turn, but only the TLC can charge them for operating in zones they are not authorized to be in.

Manson said he hasn’t set a date for the joint operation yet.

COMET typically meets at 7 p.m. on the first Monday of the month at the Bethzatha Church of God, located 85-20 57th Ave. in Elmhurst. The next meeting is scheduled for June 3.