NORWICH – Department of Social Services Commissioner Bette Osborne praised her staff for “taking their jobs to heart” upon delivering the department’s 2011 annual report Monday to the Chenango County Board of Supervisors.
“We are here to help people. And we do that respectfully and as efficiently as possible,” she said.
The job is hardly stress-free. The commissioner said it’s a challenge to hire people to listen to other people’s problems for seven hours a day. Whether it’s a child support battle between ex-spouses, automobiles that have broken down, lost jobs, day care struggles or unpaid electric bills, caseworkers need to be able to empathize every day and not take work-related emotions home with them. Finding individuals with both characteristics is difficult, she said.
Staff also need to weather the stresses that come with keeping abreast of technological changes as state and federal mandates for new software, and often times new hardware, come down the pike. Computerization and staffing remain DSS’ biggest concerns for 2012. When asked by Smyrna Supervisor James Bays to describe the communications between the different state health department services such as Foster Care, Medicaid, and Food Stamps, Osborne described them as being “all in their own silos.”
“Their computers don’t talk to each other. At least we have one system that can work with all their different computers, thanks to our own IT department. ... I’m not seeing them (the state) come together in the foreseeable future,” she said.
Nearly 350 families in the county received cash assistance either from the federal government or from the 75 percent locally afforded Safety Net system. The caseload numbers have increased over the past three years from 218 in 2007. About a decade ago, the federal government capped case assistance to families for five years, but Osborne said many move onto the primarily county-provided Safety Net level for another two years, and after that, the county may continue to pay clients’ bills for an unspecified amount of time. Commissioner Osborne said about 10 families in Chenango County switched from the 100 percent federally funded program to county-taxpayer support last year.
About 20 percent of the county’s population qualify for food stamps (8,000) and Medicaid (7,091). And again, the trend for the past three years has been up, with a 66 percent increase of the number of individuals receiving food stamps. Osborne’s annual report correlates the state’s online application system and electronic benefit card transaction systems implemented by New York State back in 2010 with a 4 percent increase last year.
Medicaid payments to providers total $79.7 million in 2011; $11 million of which was locally paid. The amount represents all but a small fraction of the county’s current $84 million spending plan. Pharsalia Supervisor Dennis Brown took the opportunity during the commissioner’s presentation to educate the new members of the board about Medicaid.
Brown said Medicaid was the ever-present “80 million pound gorilla in the room.”..