LITTLE VALLEY - Despite increases in all of the services offered by the Cattaraugus County Department of Social Services, the director sees a positive side to all of his programs.
"We have always done more with less," said Dan Piccioli, Social Services director. "Yes, it is a tired cliche, but it is exactly what we have done."
Piccioli outlined his annual department numbers for members of the county legislature, showing them that his department is seeing a dramatic increase in the majority of services offered to the people of Cattaraugus County, but he is not concerned with staffing levels.
His staff, he said, has become very good and constantly looking at what they are doing and finding ways to increase program and personal efficiencies. The process goes back to the mission statement adopted in the department, "Cattaraugus County Department of Social Services is committed to helping residents achieve the highest quality of life possible by providing services which sustain, protect and empower families and individuals. These services will be provided by courteous, compassionate and competent staff dedicated to preserving the dignity of clients and each other."
One area that Piccioli said he is most proud of, within the department, is the Earned Income Tax Credit, done in conjunction with the United Way and students at St. Bonaventure University. The program has allowed lower-income taxpayers to take advantage of the credit. It has saved residents roughly $7 million over the past year. That money, for the most part, he said, has stayed in the county, giving families more to be able to provide for their families.
As budgets for the coming year are being built in Little Valley, Piccioli said his department is able to do a few things that make the mission complete.
"It doesn't cost anything to be compassionate to those coming in and receiving services," he said.
While the economy sits in poor conditions, one program more than any has seen a very high increase, Piccioli said. That program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, has seen caseloads grow 110 percent in Cattaraugus County since 2000, according to departmental numbers. In 2000, the department had 2,603 cases for food stamps. in 2012, that number went up to 5,684.
The increase, Piccioli said, can be contributed to other factors than just the economic conditions of the county. The federal government has placed an emphasis on getting more working people that meet the qualifications through the door to receive the benefits. The caseload increase and benefits, though completely federally funded, have seen a decrease, according to the annual report.
Through 2012, the department was using the standard of 200 percent of the poverty rate. In 2013, that rate was reduced to 175 percent. Funding to the program has been reduced, creating the need to reduce eligibility.