Welfare Benefits: Blame The State

To The Reader’s Forum:

I am a County Legislator and I serve on the Human Services Committee. I would like to attempt to answer some questions that a City of Dunkirk resident asked in the Reader’s Forum about a resolution to require a length of time for residency in Chautauqua County to receive Social Service benefits.

For clarification of the facts, the Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services is an agent of the state responsible for implementing the state’s public assistance programs in this county. The state of New York establishes who can and cannot receive welfare benefits, not the county. The welfare system as a whole is a federal program that requires all states to offer certain benefits to those who are considered in need of them. The states then have the right to expand these programs if they desire, and New York state has expanded these benefits to the maximum possible.

The gentlemen stated that members of the legislature presented a resolution to establish a residency requirement for those coming into Chautauqua County, but a residency requirement does currently exist in New York state – there are just a lot of exceptions to the requirement. The legislature can demonstrate local support for state reform of the exceptions to the residency requirements. New York state law supercedes Chautauqua County’s ability to set the laws in these matters. If we were allowed to set them, I would have supported it immediately upon my successful election to the legislature six years ago and I know that many of my colleagues feel the same way. Furthermore he stated that these new residents received $42,000 in benefits. I’m not sure where he got these facts, but each case is reviewed and eligibility determined based on individual circumstances such as household size, income, etc. New York state statute provides the guidelines and rules that county staff has to follow. There is not a set standard that all applicants receive. Some qualify as more needy than others and receive more while others are considered less needful and receive limited assistance, the county Social Services employees must adhere to whatever the state requirements are, they do not just randomly set the standards on their own.

It must be noted that the county does use the front end detection system to review if an applicant is eligible to receive benefits. Between 2011 and June 2014, the FEDS Program has saved the county taxpayers $20,539,874 by ensuring that those who apply for benefits truly qualify. While these are not dollars in hand, they are dollars not taken out of our already depleted pockets.

I can assure this gentleman and all residents of the county that the members of the Human Services Committee are staying on top of things and we do know what’s going on as we regularly invite those in charge of these departments to come to our monthly meetings and give us reports so that we can make decisions based upon what is best for taxpayers countywide.

Ron Lemon

Chautauqua County Legislator

District 16