By ERIC TICHY
OBSERVER Mayville Bureau
MAYVILLE - More welfare recipients are participating in countywide welfare-to-work programs, the county Social Services Department said recently.
In fact, temporary and family assistance caseloads have dropped since January - an announcement met with approval by county officials and lawmakers.
The DSS received praise during a Human Services Committee meeting where Christine Schuyler, human services commissioner, and Marge Basile Johnson, director of temporary assistance, gave their monthly report on the welfare-to-work program.
The report, including an action plan to immediately increase its participation rates, was commissioned by the County Legislature in April. The action plan was completed and sent to lawmakers earlier this month.
According to Basile Johnson, since January, the number of welfare recipients participating in the county welfare-to-work program has increased by 179 individuals.
Participation rates have increased by almost 4 percent in the state and federally funded All Families category, while "SN Non-MOE" rates, which have a local share cost, have jumped by almost 30 percent.
County Executive Greg Edwards praised Schuyler and her team Wednesday for increasing those working for their benefits. Edwards, however, expressed disappointment over the lack of engagement in handling the action plan, which was released early to the media, including the OBSERVER.
"I need to express some significant frustration how this process was handled," Edwards said.
The county executive said he hadn't even had a chance to see the final version of the plan before reading about it - "out of context" - in the newspaper, which referenced additional staffing at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Edwards said he would never "on God's green earth" approve additional funding to the DSS when the department is already achieving success in the last year.
"... Before I even saw the final draft," he said, "the final version of this submission to this committee I was reading it in the media without context, without any understanding as to why it was being prepared.
"Look at the great work we have done for no, zero, nada additional dollars over the course of the last year. And look what we've accomplished. ... My good soldiers went out there and did their duty."
Legislators also thanked the DSS for their efforts to raise its participation rates.
"We appreciate the great work, the hard work and the success that is now on paper," said Vince Horrigan, R-Bemus Point.
John Runkle, R-Stockton, added: "It's an excellent step in the right direction, and personally speaking ... I'd like to thank you. It looks like we're heading in the right direction."
In highlighting some of their accomplishments, Schuyler noted that two teams of 10 recipients have been assigned to the Chautauqua Lake Association for cleanup efforts in the work program. According to Chris Yates, CLA president, those workers have helped the association battle a tough lake season.
One of those workers assigned to the CLA, Yates said, has been hired full-time.
Edwards said understanding the welfare-to-work program comes down to engaging legislators on the process.
"What I've been asking is to engage the legislature to a deeper level of understanding what the DSS does and the work they do," he said. "We did that (Wednesday) and they did a very good job with the questions they expressed regarding the welfare-to-work program."
The county executive said having the DSS report to the Human Services Committee requires a "delicate balance" to ensure accurate information is available without taking up unnecessary time.
"It's a delicate balance," Edwards said. "We want to make sure people are informed without making presentations that are not found to be valuable."