Concerns raised over placing welfare recipients at work sites

NORWICH – About 40 percent of the cash assistance recipients in Chenango County who are employable have criminal backgrounds, and because the state welfare program requires a work component, they have sometimes been blindly placed in public and non-profit worksites.

The number of recent instances of a convicted sex offender or thief working in an inappropriate environment, such as in a library or supervising money, is unknown. The directors of the county’s social services and personnel departments indicated Tuesday that it could be as many as six.

Such individuals fall through the cracks because caseworkers who place them don’t have the legal authority to do criminal background checks on their clients. And, when recommended for a government position, the Chenango County Personnel Department does background checks only if the job is in the realm of public safety. It doesn’t have the funding to do background checks on everybody.

“We are hobbled here to know a person’s background,” Department of Social Services Director Bette Osborne told members of the Chenango County Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday. “But, even if we could, so many criminal offenses are pleaded down today anyway.”

At the same time, Osborne said the state has threatened to sanction Chenango County for having low participation rates at worksites. The county is mandated to employ 50 percent of its clients in order to keep the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families state block grant flowing. TANF funds cover benefits, administrative expenses, and services targeted to needy families.

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