There is a simple solution to ease the financial burdens imposed by welfare in New York state - put more people back to work.
Candidates in the 150th state Assembly district have different ways of reaching that solution.
Dr. Rudy Mueller, a Lakewood Democrat and former Chautauqua County legislator, said a fresh look at the system by a physician is one way to reform Medicaid and welfare. State Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Chautauqua County, said getting people back to work and off the welfare system is how to lower costs.
Mueller has doctorate degrees in engineering and medicine - a combination of skills Mueller said can help him find solutions to make government run more efficiently. Mueller believes his professional experience can help him, as an assemblyman, find effective ways to reform Medicaid and welfare.
''We have to get Medicaid off property taxes. We are one of the only states paying for Medicaid through property taxes,'' he said. ''Medicaid needs to go back to the state. It is a state and federal program.''
Mueller said there are 31 different Medicaid programs, which makes the system too complicated. He said the program should be simplified and, as a physician, he can help the state Legislature with his experience.
''It is a huge burden to figure out which program a person will qualify for. There should be only one program or as close to one as possible,'' he said. ''As a physician, there aren't any in the Assembly, I can bring that to the table. I can bring my experience.''
The challenger said the best welfare reform is to have more and better paying jobs. Mueller said while the incumbent Goodell has been in office, either as the county executive, 1990 to 1997, or as an assemblyman, 2010 to 2012, the county has experienced its highest percentages of unemployment in the past 20 years. According to Federal Reserve Economic Data, the U.S. Department of Labor reports unemployment was above 10 percent in January 1992 and above 9 percent in January of this year.
''When he's been in leadership we've had the highest unemployment rates we've seen,'' Mueller said. ''Why are welfare costs so high for Chautauqua County? It is because we have high unemployment.''
GOODELL: MAKE IT EASIER FOR PEOPLE TO WORK
Goodell said if someone is able to work, then they need to find a job. Those who refuse to work and continue to receive welfare benefits should be removed from the system as quickly as possible.
Goodell said he has introduced a number of bills in the state Legislature to make it easier for people to leave welfare and get a private sector job without facing financial penalties. He said there is a bill to make Medicaid coverage consistent with business health insurance. He said this way people can leave welfare and not see a decrease in their insurance coverage until insurance for the person's new job takes effect.
Goodell said he has also introduced a bill to allow for random drug testing so welfare recipients will be ready to work once they find a suitable job.
''Many jobs, particularly those that involve heavy equipment or trucking or driving, require random drug testing of their employees,'' he said. ''We want welfare recipients ready to go into a private sector jobs and to pass a drug test.''
Goodell said he has co-sponsored legislation that would prohibit the use of welfare benefits at casinos, liquor stores and for adult entertainment. Also, to eliminate recipients from being able to receive benefits if they have a second home.
''If you have a vacation home your first priority is to sell your vacation home and use the money to tide you over until you can get back on your feet,'' he said.
Goodell said if the state Legislature is serious about welfare reform, it needs to make it easier for people to leave the system.
''We need to align are welfare benefits so we don't award people for doing counterproductive behavior,'' he said. ''For example, emergency HEAP, the Home Energy Assistance Program, it is only available if you have received a shut off notice. So think about that. If you pay your bill on time, you're not eligible. So we actually pay people not to pay their bill on time.''
CANDIDATES DISCUSS COUNTY GOVERNMENT RECORD
Mueller served as a member of county legislature from 2008 to 2011. During his time he was both the majority and minority leader for the Democratic caucus. The challenger said he worked hard in 2011 to keep the county's tax levy in 2012 under the 2 percent cap law that went into effect for the first time last year. He said, along with John Runkle, R-Stockton, and Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, he worked with other legislators on both sides of the aisle to lower the budget, to get it under the tax cap.
''(County Executive Greg) Edwards brought it in $5 million over. Every legislator thought it was impossible. No way we could get it down,'' he said. ''I worked with John Runkle and Nazzaro, and we were able to hold 11 legislators together, and we got it down below the tax cap. By the end, we got 20 votes, it was the most bipartisan budget ever.''
Mueller said during Goodell's time as county executive, the county's tax levy increased from $28.7 million to $37.6 million.
''In an eight-year period, the tax levy went up by $8.9 million,'' he said.
Goodell said he doesn't mind comparing his record as county executive with Mueller's time in the county legislature. He said when he was county executive he cut the tax rate six years in a row and left the county government with a record fund balance.
''When Rudy was there, he left the county with a record fund deficit,'' he said. ''I worked very hard when I was county executive on our welfare programs and we were successful in cutting the cost of the program, which is why we were able to cut the tax rate six years in a row.''