This is in response to the article in the OBSERVER (June 3) regarding Social Services and Legislator John Runkle's statement that county workers should at least "be average."
Most of the workers there now have college degrees. Most start working with on-the-job training then go to Albany where they get "state training" and then they learn "county rules" which are slightly different. For instance, most counties charge clients to pay their water bills but we do not. The regulations are technical and change on a regular basis. These things are sometimes not under our control and are decided upon by judges during court hearings and state government.
Following a case from application to opening is a long, complicated, arduous process. Appropriate referrals and appointments should be made with more of a concentration on employment regardless of a myriad of issues. Many disabled people can work and they should be encouraged to do so. Regulations force workers to sometimes pigeonhole clients before they have a chance to try a job. Many clients fear losing their Medicaid and this squelches their zeal for finding employment.
Tracking appointments sounds easy, but the plan in place is not working. Breakdowns in communication cause cases to be opened prior to the clients meeting all of their requirements and once on the system, they are much harder to get off due to the long conciliation process. Clients are told during the initial application interview what their requirements are and some only apply for lesser services with fewer requirements.
Nothing was really in the Social Services article about what we expect from the clients. Yes, we need more people to do the job we are supposed to be doing because of drastic loss of staffing resulting from retirement and the fire in the past few years. The creation of case manager positions was meant to raise the rate of employed clients but that has failed miserably. Not all counties have case managers. Things need to be simplified. Creating separate units has resulted in more problems due to lost communications.
Clients don't know who their worker is because they see so many different people for so many different things. All case managers should become examiner positions and all workers should split the caseload and all share the same responsibilities. This would assist workers in covering positions for a worker being out and when a client calls with a problem anyone could take care of it and caseloads would be smaller and more manageable.
Workers who are already stressed out are becoming more so by mandating confidentiality in the most strict sense which then hampers workers in processing cases. Other workers who are more knowledgeable are the greaters resources the Department of Social Services has. Regulations are complex even to legal attorneys and many times have exceptions or are very vague and don't answer the question.
When workers are allowed to do their job, with support from administration, many issues can be overcome.
Most of the seasoned workers and supervisors from the Dunkirk office retired. At the end of the equation are lots of new workers who need help and training in processing cases correctly. The caseloads are so high that workers get phone calls from the time they walk in the door until they leave. In the midst of that they are interviewing new applicants, seeing walk-ins, fixing problems and giving emergency benefits. They need assistance from administration to carry out the duties they are assigned with.
When caseloads did go down, the state raised the income limits making the clients we had and worked so hard with to get off the system and come right back.
After working for DSS for almost 30 years, I feel I can speak on behalf of my former co-workers who have no outlet for their problems and concerns. There are little pockets that only those supervisors living and working in these environments for years can begin to see where change is needed and money could be saved, but the current administration wants no critical thinking and is more than ready to discipline workers for speaking up.
Looking long term and seeing that the small counties in New York state are going broke, Medicaid should not go statewide. We should pay our bills here so that workers know if the medical provider is a fraud or not. The bigger the agency, the more the fraud, not less.
DSS needs to bring drug and alcohol back in house, not contract out. Sending clients to rehab and for methadone treatments is costing the county huge sums of money and many times with no positive result. Communication being lost between the counselors and case managers has also negatively impacted the employment rate of clients.
We should be working closer with all the local police departments as we had in the past. We do still work with drug court. DSS needs to reach out to all local agencies and these agencies need to help us get clients back on their feet. The regulations set by the state and its Constitution are what needs to change. Instead we have clients who have maxed out benefits in another state coming here to get assistance. Both federal and state governments lifted requirements regarding resources and drug and alcohol for Medicaid singles and everybody wonders why it costs so much money?
I do fault all the county executives for not gathering together and approaching state government in Albany with a plan and suggestions of small changes to start but with an end vision in mind. I know the county executive went to Albany regarding unfunded mandates. But much, much more is needed.
All of these programs are breaking the bank but they are also not meeting the people's needs. There are still homeless and hungry people in New York for all the money we are spending. Where is the big benefit? They will continue to receive benefits until the government stops enabling them and forces the clients to see that it would be to their benefit to work a job and have health insurance through their employer rather than collecting money from a government grant. Clients are smart with all associated benefits added together, they get more money than working a minimum wage job. It's not their fault and not the workers fault; it's the government's fault, the grant writers, and now they need to fix it.
It makes more sense to me to help the employer provide affordable health insurance for their employees. This could start a transition to clients becoming more self sufficient because they have to, not because they want to. Then the working clients will be paying taxes, have a better life, more income and need less assistance from government agencies.
Programs in which the employer signs a contract with DSS to employ a certain person who is on assistance for a period of six months where we pay half the cost of the client's wages while the employer pays the other half, need to be expanded.
After the six months, the employer either hires them full time if it works out or not. There is a lag in the time the business receives payment and fixing that could encourage other businesses to sign up for the contract or to agree to be a work site.
It was only when the people stood up together to change things that it did. The U.S. Constitution states government is not in the business of charity. Our government has somehow lost sight of what they are about and people need to educate themselves and gather together to set things right.
Both Social Security and Social Services regulations were based on old economics and can no longer be sustained at these levels. We need to come together as a state to change our way of doing things, not only at DSS, but at all levels of county government and help our county to prosper rather than watch it sink with losses of business and people.
Jessica Carreras is a Sheridan resident.