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Fulton County DSS offers status update

JOHNSTOWN — Half of Fulton County government’s largest department is working from home due to COVID-19, as the pandemic also continues to impact the monetary benefits flow from the department.

Fulton County Department of Social Services Commissioner Anne Solar said Thursday her agency continues to keep an eye on the money trail impacting benefits given by her agency to the area’s needy.

“My biggest concern is the 20 percent the state is taking,” said Solar.

She mentioned the 20 percent the state has “withheld” during the pandemic, which actually represents money that is supposed to be repaid through the federal government. The repayments impact many areas of social services, which have affected local families hard through the pandemic.

“There has been no payment to the local government from the feds,” Solar said.

Meanwhile, the numbers of Fulton County DSS cases are on the rise, including those for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program. SNAP issues electronic benefits that can be used like cash to purchase food.

According to the state, SNAP helps low-income working people, senior citizens, the disabled and others feed their families.

Products that can be purchased with SNAP include breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables; meats, fish and poultry; and dairy products.

Asked whether the pandemic is driving the rise in SNAP applications, Solar responded: “I would say yes.” She said her evidence for that is fluctuating numbers related to people not needing SNAP and then needing it as their eligibility for unemployment benefits dry up.

Meanwhile, Solar said the local DSS administration is working hard to manage a workforce that includes 50 percent working from home.

“We are working at half staff,” she said. “We’ve had to restart some of the work,”

Even before the pandemic hit in spring 2020, Solar said that historically the benefits had been at their lowest point in 20 or 30 years.

Solar will be bringing up more of the department’s concerns when the Board of Supervisors’ Human Services Committee meets Jan. 26 for the first time this year.

Fulton County, like other counties, has advocacy groups working on their side such as the New York State Association of Counties.

NYSAC legislative social services priorities by New York state for 2021. They include fully funding the costs of any services the state continues to provide when the federal government ends their federal financial support.

NYSAC is also calling for reinstituting local training programs so that counties do not need to pay for workers to travel to Albany for training; eliminating the issuance of home relief to those who have exhausted their 60-month limit on TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; restoring county authority to audit individuals applying for Medicaid and other social service programs to ensure program integrity.; restoring home relief to a 50/50 state /local match; and restoring open-ended child welfare funding to 65 percent state share.

Other priorities by NYSAC include: Restoring the state’s participation in child support administration; restoring SNAP administration reimbursement; and completing the takeover of the administration of the Medicaid program from local districts as required under the law.

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