Health Department optimistic about Welfare to Work

MAYVILLE – Ever since chautauqua County Social Services came under fire in January 2012 for low participation rates in the county’s Welfare to Work program, participation numbers have improved.

At Wednesday night’s Human Services Committee meeting, Christine Schuyler, director of the county Social Services and Health Department, presented the newly elected group with a Welfare to Work program update and numbers regarding applicants from out of state.

Marge Johnson, director of temporary assistance, was also present to provide an update on county programs and participation rates.

Throughout November and December 2013, legislators discussed the possibility of informing the state of the desire for more stringent residency requirements for the receiving of welfare benefits in Chautauqua County.

According to a resolution presented by Jay Gould, R-Ashville, at last month’s Human Services meeting, people from other states have been known to come back to New York state to receive the state’s total benefit package, including Medicaid.

Throughout the month of December, Johnson and Schuyler tracked applicants for temporary assistance who listed on their application their last address as being out of the state of New York or outside of Chautauqua County.

Ten applicants listed their last address in Pennsylvania, while 16 listed an address in Puerto Rico. Three were from Texas, and another three were from Florida. Other states included Arizona, California, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio and West Virginia.

The total number of applications received from outside of Chautauqua County was 41. Of the applicants, 23 were a case type of “family assistance.” The other 18 were for “safety net” assistance. It was not determined how many of the 41 were approved.

Family Assistance provides cash assistance to needy families that include a minor child living with a parent (including families where both parents are in the household) or a caretaker relative. Family Assistance benefits expire after 60 months.

Safety Net assistance is provided for single residents or homes with a childless couple.

Both assistance programs are included under the “temporary assistance” term.

The number did not include applications for SNAP benefits, which is the new term for the food stamp program.

Countywide, the total number of applications received for family assistance, safety net, SNAP and emergency benefits was 1,265. Of that number, 33.8 percent were denied.

In terms of the Welfare to Work program, Schuyler said the caseload of welfare applicants has increased since August 2013. This may be in part due to the economy.

“We’re working on the participation rate,” she added. “We’re engaging people, but not at the rate of what New York state requires.”

Schuyler and Johnson presented data to prove increased numbers of participation, and both said the numbers will continue to steadily increase as collaboration with the state Workforce Investment Board (a division of the Department of Labor) strengthens.

As of August, Chautauqua County placed 24th out of 57 counties in terms of participation.

On the bright side, Front End Detection System, which is implemented by the federal government and determines whether an applicant is eligible for benefits, saved Chautauqua County $7.7 million.

In other news, the department was awarded a grant through the state for a maternal/infant child health initiative to last through September 2018 in the amount of $230,663.

“We’re really excited we were awarded the funds,” Schuyler said. “(The initiative) is a new thing. We haven’t had the opportunity or the funding to support it.”

Schuyler said the department will work with community partners to form a coalition to implement supportive services appropriate to the needs of mothers and children. The grant will also help increase prenatal care, decrease premature births, low birth weight babies and infant mortality rates, Schuyler said.