MAYVILLE - How does the county Department of Social Services plan to increase its Welfare-to-Work participation rate, which according to one county legislator, is well below the state average?
It could do so by increasing staffing levels by 16 people at a local share cost of $505,000, according to an action plan released internally this week and obtained by The Post-Journal.
The action plan, which will be discussed during a Human Services Committee meeting June 20, was commissioned by John Runkle, R-Stockton, during the legislature's April meeting, and calls on the Social Services Department to increase participants in its Welfare-to-Work program.
The department also is required to furnish monthly progress reports to the legislature's Human Services Committee detailing what progress has been made.
"Well, I guess right now I'm still in sticker shock over seeing this," Runkle said of the projected costs. "We're going to have to discuss this in the Human Services Committee and the legislature. This is what has been offered."
"Have my questions been answered so far? Yes, but I'm a little concerned of the plan," he continued. "If we were to implement it, just how much would we save as a result of the additional staff?"
Participation rates in the Welfare-to-Work program are broken down into two categories: Family Assistance and Safety Net Assistance Non Maintenance of Effort (SN-Non-MOE).
Reimbursement of Family Assistance rates are equally split between federal and state tax dollars. SN Non-MOE, meanwhile, is reimbursed primarily through local taxes. As of April, Family Assistance rates are at 13.7 percent, roughly 10 percent off the state average; however, SN Non-MOE rates are at 32.3 percent, currently above the state benchmark.
To increase worksite development and participation rates in both categories, the DSS figures it would need 16 additional personnel. Those include more case workers and clerical staff.
Christine Schuyler, social services commissioner, said the additional staffing, including occupancy, would cost $1.17 million, resulting in a local share payment of $505,000.
"I would have had to have asked for these additional staff eventually," Schuyler said, "but the legislature has given us the opportunity to identify where staff could be added due to our higher volume."
She added that due to attrition and recent budget cuts, employees have had to deal with extra workloads to handle an increase in eligible welfare workers, which has gone from 671 in 2007 to 1,431 in April 2012. Temporary-assistance cases, too, have risen from 1,795 in 2007 to 3,056 in April.
"We're going to have to sit down and look at the numbers," Runkle said. "We're not asking the Social Services Department to be overachievers, we're asking them to be average."
But Runkle added he is pleased to see a starting point for discussions. "I hope we can start moving on this and keep moving on this," he said.
"I guess I share his sentiment on that," Schuyler added. "I'm looking forward to discussing this with them."
Strategies to increase participation rates include:
Assigning all applicants to an orientation and job-search program. The action plan calls for routine reviews of attendance sheets to ensure applicants are attending the meetings. Failure to show, or falsification of records, will cause a denial in an application.
Track employment activities for all recipients and "conciliate for failure to comply unless there is a good cause documented."
Track all cases with alcohol and substance abuse issues. "For individuals who fail to comply with the conciliation without good cause, proceed to sanction," the plan states.
Case managers will complete assessments with applicants within a week of application. Case managers will also complete a personal employment plan with each applicant.
Monthly progress reports to identify those who are working and those who are not participating.
The action plan also calls for an increase in the number of worksites, employment and education training opportunities. The DSS plans to improve supportive services at worksites by maintaining "frequent communication."
Welfare recipients will also be assisted into proper worksite locations based on skillset. The DSS hopes to partner with CARTS (Chautauqua Area Regional Transit System) to provide transportation options for welfare workers.
During a Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce breakfast Friday, County Executive Greg Edwards thanked Schuyler and the DSS for their efforts to reduce the burden of welfare costs to the county.
Edwards said to get welfare recipients off the county tax rolls, local employers should look into opening themselves for the Welfare-to-Work program. Doing so would give recipients on-site training.
"We are actually looking for those employers who are looking to take on those obligations," Edwards said.