MAYVILLE – Chautauqua County Lawmakers last night passed several resolutions, including one that would require the county Department of Social Services to create an action plan that would help to increase participation in the so-called “Welfare-to-Work” program. The resolution was written based on figures that said local participation in the program was well below the statewide average. Last night it was approved, but only after 17 minutes of discussion from lawmakers.
Legislator Vicky James (D-Jamestown) also introduced an amendment that called for the creation of a plan to increase the number of education and training programs, to go along with an increase in participating work sites. While the amendment was only approved by a vote of 14 to 9, the welfare-to-work resolution itself ended up receiving unanimous support. Prior to the vote, legislator and majority leader Larry Barmore said the action plan is needed to help build a better work ethic among those who are currently receiving public assistance.
“We all know times have been getting tough over the past couple of years and as a result there’s been more people applying for temporary assistance statewide – it’s not just a Chautauqua County issue,” Barmore said. “But the upstate average increase in recipients over the last two years is just a shade over 12 percent, while at the same time Chautauqua County’s increase in recipients was almost 28 percent….. basically Chautauqua County for whatever reason – and we’re not here to dwell on whatever the reasons may be – has become a mecca for people trying to accept temporary assistance.”
While lawmakers all supported the measure, County Executive Greg Edwards took some issue with the bill, saying the numbers being used to justify its passage are based on the time period prior to the current Director Kristine Schuyler taking over as head of the Department of Social Services.
“There has been dramatic improvements in our [welfare-to-work] numbers since they bottomed out at about the same time the number of people who qualified went through the roof with the deterioration in our economy and the significant influx of people into Chautauqua County that qualified for benefits,” Edwards said. “So I’m pleased that they want to talk about it and I’m pleased they want to find out more about these programs, Because they more they find out about it, the more impressed they are going to be with the work that has already gotten under way months ago, really into last year.”
Edwards added that the subsequent amendment that was added to the bill by legislator James may also create additional work and costs to the department. He said he would have preferred to have lawmakers talk with Schuyler and other members of his staff prior to drafting the measure and voting on it.