By ERIC TICHY
OBSERVER Mayville Bureau
MAYVILLE - Several legislators are hoping to re-energize the county's struggling welfare-to-work program, which currently features a 10 percent participation rate.
Doing so could save county taxpayers millions of dollars.
The legislature will vote on a resolution to authorize the county Department of Social Services to develop an action plan to increase welfare workers, which currently trails the state average by nearly 25 percent.
The resolution is being sponsored by John Runkle, R-Stockton; Legislature Chairman Jay Gould, R-Ashville; Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia; P.J. Wendel, R-Lakewood; Robert Stewart, R-Ellington; and George Borrello, R-Irving.
"Obviously these rates are a great concern to me," Runkle said Friday of drafting the resolution. "They are well below the state average; we're hoping to rectify that."
The Stockton legislator noted that as of January 2012, only 10 percent of welfare recipients in Chautauqua County were involved in the welfare-to-work program. Those rates are far below that state average of 34.2 percent.
Chautauqua County has seen its participation in the program steadily decline since 2007, when 30 percent of welfare recipients were out working.
"Of course this is just asking for an action plan," Runkle said.
Runkle said there are only five counties - out of 62 in the state - performing at lower participation rates than Chautauqua County. He added that if more welfare recipients were put to work, the county could save millions of dollars in monthly welfare costs.
For instance, if Chautauqua County (134,905 residents) were to raise its participation rates to that of Schenectady County (154,727 residents), the county would save almost $431,764 a month, or $5 million a year.
Christine Schuyler, commissioner of the county's social services department, said she was made aware of the resolution Friday, and welcomed the chance to boost county numbers.
"I appreciate the legislature's assistance in assisting us in the welfare-to-work program," Schuyler said. "We noted the numbers were down ourselves."
Schuyler said since January, participation numbers have increased within the county to approximately 13 percent.
"We're already seeing those numbers go up," she added. "To give reports (to the legislature), it's not a big deal." Schuyler said she plans to attend next week's legislature meeting.
Those who do participate in the work program are given hands-on experience within the job market. Workers also receive contacts and recommendations to re-enter the job market and get off of welfare assistance.
"Welfare-to-work is not designed to just hand out money," Runkle said. "It's designed to help them find jobs. The money is not just given out; that's not the case."
The resolution would require the DSS to provide the legislature within 30 days an action plan to increase county participation in the welfare-to-work program to that of state levels within a year. And if those rates can't be achieved, Runkle said he would like an explantion.
The action plan would seek specific plans to increase worksites, improve supportive services and evaluate and select appropriate welfare recipients for each worksite. The plan also calls for harder sanctions on those who refuse to participate in the welfare-to-work program.
If the resolution were to pass, the DSS would be required to provide monthly progress reports to the Human Services Committee on the action plan's progress.
"We want to know what we can do to get those rates up," Runkle said.
chart in photos:april - wefarework.pdf