Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 9, 2014

POVERTY IN NIAGARA: Benefits boom -- Caseloads, costs rise following 2008 economic downturn

Social Services' caseloads, costs rise following 2008 economic downturn


Niagara Gazette — Safety Net cost increases in particular have drawn the ire of county lawmakers in recent years. 

In 2007, the program cost the county $6.1 million. By the end of 2013, the cost had risen to $10.9 million. 

Until March of 2011, counties and the state split costs for Safety Net evenly. As part of the 2011-2012 state budget, lawmakers agreed to pass more of the cost along to the counties, increasing the local share to 71 percent and decreasing the state share to 29 percent. 

As part of the deal, the cost-sharing for TANF changed as well. Before April of 2011, the federal government covered 50 percent of the cost for the program, with the state and counties picking up 25 percent each. As part of the Safety Net cost change, the state agreed to “absolve” counties of their TANF expenses in an effort to make up for any extra cost related to Safety Net. 

“Quite frankly, that has not worked out,” Restaino said.   

“That (Safety Net) program is growing and the percentage of the cost of that program is higher now on the backs of the local taxpayer than it was prior to April of 2011,” he added. 

Part of the reason: Benefits being paid to individuals who move into Niagara County to collect after they have “timed out” on their eligibility in other states. 

According to the social services department, in 2012, 204 people moved into Niagara County from outside New York and applied for benefits, adding $3.7 million to the local cost of welfare and Medicaid. 

Through August of last year, 111 more individuals moved in and applied for assistance, adding another $1.8 million to the county’s burden. 

Restaino’s department has documented cases of individuals who have exhausted their TANF allotments in places like Michigan, Georgia and Ohio who moved to Niagara County and applied for extended benefits. 

The county, through entities like the Association of Counties, has for many years lobbied for reforms in Albany. Last year, Niagara County lawmakers on both sides of the aisle supported a resolution calling on the state to impose a residency requirement for public assistance. They’ve made similar requests dating back to 1992. 

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