Tag Archives: Oswego County Department of Social Services

DSS to re-open soon

The Oswego County Department of Social Services facility at 100 Spring St. will officially re-open to the public at 8:30 a.m. Monday, April 29.

The Mexico office building was closed in December for asbestos abatement and building repairs. Since then, services have been provided at the former Cayuga Community College facility in Fulton.

Social Services Commissioner Gregg Heffner said the department will be closed Friday, April 26. Employees will begin moving items from storage Wednesday, April 24, and the staff will move back into the Mexico building on Friday, April 26.

Heffner said ceiling tiles have been replaced and several other repairs have been made to the Mexico facility. “Our staff is looking forward to returning to the DSS facility in Mexico,” said Heffner. “I want to thank the members of the public, the DSS staff, our co-workers at the Buildings and Grounds Department, and the county legislature for their patience and cooperation over the past several months while repairs were made to the Mexico building.

“It was a challenging process at times, but everyone pulled together and the end result will be well worth the effort for our customers and our employees,” he added.

Valley Viewpoints: Safety of children

by Gregg Heffner, Commissioner Oswego County DSS

This letter is in response to the “Dollars and Sense” submission by Marilyn Nye in the Dec. 12, 2012 edition of The Valley News.

As the commissioner of Oswego County Department of Social Services and the past director of services for the department, I have worked hard to bring focus and efficiencies to the contracted services offered to children and families in our community.

We focus specifically on the safety of children while maintaining commitment to positive outcomes and stabilization of the biological family as a critical part of the work we do at the department.  Our goal is, and will continue to be, keeping children at home with their families while supporting the family members in achieving their personal goals and those goals identified by the department and Family Court as essential to preservation of this family unit.

As Ms. Nye states, the Youth Advocate Program is one of the contracts in our services structure. There are many more.

YAP has done a fine job for the department and has worked with Oswego County families for many years successfully. But, they are not the only service we offer and they are not the only service of this kind.

We have at least four other contracts providing similar services with several contracts working at a greater level of intensity with families in crisis. We have multiple contracts due to the volume of families we serve and the diverse needs of those families.

It is important to note that contracted services in Oswego County work as a supplement to the work done by Oswego County caseworkers. It is our county caseworkers that lead the charge in helping keep children safe and families stable. There would be no services structure without them.

The Oswego County Legislature has been steadfast in its commitment to control the tax levy for county residents. That has been true since my arrival at the county and is represented in the work I have done with the legislature on the 2011, 2012, and 2013 budgets.

As a department head, I have been charged with holding the line on spending at the Department of Social Services in order to achieve the goals of the legislature, while maintaining services that are appropriate to the needs of the families we serve.

I assembled my management team this year to determine if and where cuts could be made to maintain the tax levy at 2012 rates. In our review of contracted services, it was apparent that some services were under-utilized with the department paying for empty slots.

Reducing those contracts was the easiest part of this assignment.  The process also required management at DSS to re-visit the mission of the department, making sure our service structure matched the mission without expanding it beyond the needs of the community.

In some contracts, we were providing services not required by Child Welfare regulations (Social Services Law) at partial expense to the county tax payer.  We carefully considered the need for those services and the consequences should the service be reduced or modified.

We have always considered the safety of children in this process as has the legislature.  An important note is that the department did not “cut” programs as Ms. Nye suggests. We did reduce contracts and, in several cases, eliminated contracts, while bringing the services back into the department. What this means is our caseworkers will be doing the work that was contracted to community providers at a reduced cost to the taxpayer.

Those services funded through the department who are able to bill Medicaid were eliminated — although we will continue to refer individuals and families to them to ensure their financial viability.

Ms. Nye indicates in her letter that the cuts were immediate. In fact, they were not immediate.  Contracts that were reduced or eliminated were continued at their current funding levels through the end of 2012. We needed this time for the transitioning of staff in that program, but more importantly to assist families in completing service or being transitioned to another provider.

Those programs needing to lay off staff are being offered employment related services through the Department’s One Stop Center in Fulton.

Core services will continue to be provided to children and families in need in our county. Specialty services such as mental health and chemical dependency treatments will be referred to in county providers who have the ability to bill Medicaid, Medicare, or other commercial insurance providers.

Collaboration of effort will be the focus for future contracts with our area agencies, but duplication and layering of services is not a reasonable option moving forward.

State and federal dollars to the counties are dropping. The future of block grants that cover areas such as preventive and protective services, foster care, and child care are uncertain. A shifting of a larger part of the financial burden for services and assistance programming to the counties has been occurring over the last few years.

Unemployment in Oswego County increases the likelihood that more of our residents will qualify for cash assistance, food stamps, and Medicaid.

This creates a tremendous burden for county residents with the legislature maintaining a commitment to not shift this burden to the taxpayers. The county’s primary strategy for holding the tax levy is to hold and possibly reduce the county’s overall operating budget.

The Department of Social Services is just one of the county’s departments that made cuts for 2013. Other Departments shared in that burden.

The landscape for social services is changing, politically and financially. Services will continue to be restructured at DSS with a focus on engagement, efficiencies in operation, productivity, and a clear commitment to outcomes.

Agencies in our community will need to bring their “A” game to the table to ensure that families will partner, participate, and benefit from the services provided. They will need to be creative and flexible in their implementation of services to ensure that families will get a return on their investment as well as Oswego County.

These are indeed difficult times. But, there can be a productive marriage between best practice and cost effectiveness, while providing significant benefits to families. I will continue to be committed to this strategy.

Emily Bradshaw (center), a student at Oswego Middle School, delivers some of 540 personal care bags that she has collected to OCO Homeless Services for distribution to people in need. Bradshaw, who is currently lobbying for the establishment of a homeless shelter in Oswego County, is collecting personal care items for distribution to homeless people in Oswego County. Pictured with Bradshaw are Sabine Ingerson (left), director of ARISE of Oswego County and Sarah Irland (right), deputy executive director of Oswego County Opportunities.

Oswego student continues mission to help the homeless

homeless
Emily Bradshaw (center), a student at Oswego Middle School, delivers some of 540 personal care bags that she has collected to OCO Homeless Services for distribution to people in need. Bradshaw, who is currently lobbying for the establishment of a homeless shelter in Oswego County, is collecting personal care items for distribution to homeless people in Oswego County. Pictured with Bradshaw are Sabine Ingerson (left), director of ARISE of Oswego County and Sarah Irland (right), deputy executive director of Oswego County Opportunities.

Homelessness. It exists in virtually every community and impacts all ages.

In some cases, the plight of the homeless is easily recognizable, in others it is more of a silent, unseen issue.

While homelessness in Oswego County is not always recognizable, it does exist. A one day study conducted by the County of Oswego Advocates Challenging Homelessness indicates that on any day in Oswego county over 85 county residents have no place to call home and over 30 more are on the brink of homelessness.

While there are some services available, one basic need is not: shelter where they find temporary comfort from the elements.

There is no homeless shelter in Oswego County, however, 12-year old Emily Bradshaw, a student at Oswego Middle School, is on a mission to change that.

“My grandmother works at DSS (Oswego County Department of Social Services) and when I heard that there were hundreds of homeless people in Oswego County but no homeless shelter it upset me a lot,” she said. “I decided I was going to do whatever I can to get one.”

Bradshaw began her quest for a homeless shelter with a visit to the Oswego County Legislature in September when she voiced her concern and spoke of the issue of homelessness and the need for a homeless shelter. “This is a serious issue and we need to help people,” said Bradshaw.

Following her appeal to the Oswego County Legislature, she spoke with Oswego County Social Services Commissioner Greg Heffer and the executive director of Oswego County Opportunities, a community action agency that offers several programs for the homeless.

“They suggested that since it may take a while to get a homeless shelter and that while I was lobbying I could start a drive to collect personal care items that would be distributed to homeless people,” said Bradshaw.

And so it began. Through personal visits and letters, Bradshaw contacted businesses, organizations, dentists, churches, family and friends shared her mission with them and asked for donations of personal care items.

She was very pleased with the responses she received noting that the community has been very generous, even her classmates helped her.

With a goal of collecting enough items to make 500 personal care bags, Bradshaw began collecting, sorting, and putting together the bags.  In less than three months she not only met her goal, she far surpassed it, and isn’t done yet. “I’ve made 540 bags…and counting,” said Bradshaw. “I’m happy that the community is helping me. It makes me feel good.”

Bradshaw said that she has already begun distributing the bags with DSS receiving 150 bags and Oswego High School, Oswego Middle School, and G. Ray Bodley High School each receiving 50 bags.  “Even though we may not know it there are a lot of homeless students,” she said. “I was told that during any given week there are at least two-dozen homeless students at Oswego High School alone. It makes me happy to know that I am helping them.”

Additionally, Bradshaw said that she would be distributing personal care bags along with hats and scarves during the Oswego Salvation Army Thanksgiving dinner.

Throughout her drive for personal care bags, Bradshaw has continued to lobby for the creation of a homeless shelter.  he continues to share her vision with Oswego County legislators, her city councilor, the Mayor of Oswego, and other county and state representatives.

She has met with Assemblyman Will Barclay and has reached out to Congressman Bill Owens and Senator Patty Ritchie.

“Bad things can happen to good people and everyone deserves to be treated equal. It makes my heart feel happy because I know I am helping people and that our community is helping people,” said Bradshaw.

Those seeking to contribute to Bradshaw’s personal care bags drive you may contact Jennifer Bradshaw at 342-3164 or via e-mail at hockeyfans@twcny.rr.com to arrange for pick up of items.

Donations may also be dropped off in the main office of the Oswego Middle School, 100 Mark FitzGibbons Drive.

Legislators approve DSS temporary relocation deal

by Carol Thompson

When the Oswego County Legislature met recently, the final order of business was to approve a contract for the temporary relocation of the Oswego County Department of Social Services (DSS).

The department will be temporarily located in the former Cayuga County Community College location in Fulton while contractors complete an asbestos abatement project with a cost that has escalated from double to triple digits.

The county received three bids for the moving project.

The highest bid was received from Delaney Moving of Syracuse, who submitted a proposal of $149,900. The second lowest bidder was Syracuse-based Fox Hollow Movers at $125,920.

The low bidder, Greater Syracuse Moving, was awarded the bid at a cost of $79,367.

Legislator Doug Malone cast the lone opposing vote with Legislator Art Ospelt absent and Legislator Amy Tresidder excused due to a death in the family.

County Administrator Phil Church said the bid is higher than the original budget estimate.

Other bids are due soon for construction and electrical and the legislature will make a decision what work beyond the asbestos abatement that they want to approve.

Legislator James Karasek said the public should be informed that a good portion of the increase is due to complying with HIPAA laws and the moving of confidential files.

“That drove the cost up a great deal on this,” he said, adding that the legislature wasn’t aware of it when the project planning was started.

Legislator Jake Mulcahey said he is concerned because the project is only in phase one and the costs are already $50,000 more than anticipated. “It’s very substantial,” he said.

To read the rest of the story, pick up the latest copy of The Valley News. You may also subscribe to the paper by calling 598-6397
At the heart of the DSS Children’s Fund are committee co-chairs, from left, Deanne Myers, Marcia Birdsell, and Carol Lee. Maria Downey is absent from the photo. For almost 30 years, the DSS staff has organized a toy giveaway for needy families. More than 1,600 children received gifts last Christmas.

DSS annual Children’s Christmas Project is a community effort

DSS annual Children’s Christmas Project
At the heart of the DSS Children’s Fund are committee co-chairs, from left, Deanne Myers, Marcia Birdsell, and Carol Lee. Maria Downey is absent from the photo. For almost 30 years, the DSS staff has organized a toy giveaway for needy families. More than 1,600 children received gifts last Christmas.

For almost three decades, employees at the Oswego County Department of Social Services have been helping families in need during the holiday season.

The annual Children’s Christmas Fund has grown from a toy giveaway initially aimed at foster children to include more than 1,600 children in 600 families last Christmas.

“I am extremely proud of our DSS staff and their commitment to this project,” said DSS Commissioner Gregg Heffner. “The Children’s Christmas Fund first began by providing gifts to foster children, but now has expanded to provide gifts to any child who may otherwise receive little or nothing for Christmas. The project is supported entirely by community donations. No federal, state or county funds are used.”

Staff members Deanne Myers, Carol Lee, Maria Downey and Marcia Birdsell are at the heart of the project.

For Myers, the Children’s Fund is a family commitment. “There are many nights my daughters and I shop for the Children’s Fun,” she said. “They help pick out items children might enjoy for Christmas. I find giving my time very rewarding and my family is right there by my side. I like to think that what we do will make a difference for a child who will have that smile on their face on Christmas, or the parent who may be a little less stressed out over the holiday season because we were able to help them.”

The committee credits DSS retiree Connie Day with doing “a ton of work” to get the program off the ground more than 20 years ago. Altogether, about 15 to 20 staff members and their families work year-round to organize the project, searching for bargains and shopping throughout the year to make sure there are appropriate gifts for every child in need.

“The committee gives much of their own time each year to make this project happen,” said Lee, a senior typist who has been involved in the program since 1989. “The staff members coordinate the number of toys with the numbers of kids in need to make sure we have enough for each age group. It is very rewarding to know that we are helping to make Christmas possible for families who otherwise might have to go without gifts for their children.”

“Although this project consumes a lot of our personal time, I don’t think twice about volunteering each year because it is extremely gratifying,” added Birdsell. “The generosity of the community as we collect donations of money and toys makes me proud to be a resident of Oswego County. And I have spoken to so many parents that break down and cry with gratitude because they didn’t know how they were going to provide toys for their children for Christmas. I can just picture the children on Christmas morning, finding the toys that the project provides under the Christmas tree. That is what makes the time commitment worthwhile.”

With difficult economic times, the list of families has grown each year. DSS staff hold fund-raisers throughout the year to support the children’s Christmas project.

“Every year we think we won’t have enough items for all the families to get something,” said Myers. “Yet each year, we are totally amazed at how much comes to us from the community, workers here at DSS, and companies that donate either toys or monetarily. I’m in awe to see how generous people are to complete strangers, when all they know is that someone needs help.”

The program would not be possible without the help and support of many businesses and organizations across Oswego County.

“Every toy that is given to a child is purchased by members in the community, including workers right here at DSS,” said senior typist Maria Downey. “We are totally amazed how much comes to us from the community, workers here at DSS, and companies that donate either toys or monetarily.”

Toys are distributed on a referral basis only. Families needing assistance may contact the Department of Social Services at 963-5000, or fill out an application form at the DSS office. Families are screened for eligibility requirements.

The deadline to apply is Monday, Nov. 26. This year’s toy distribution will be Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 15 and 16. Families will receive an appointment letter informing them of the time and location to pick out their toys.

“It gives you a really good feeling to be able to make Christmas a little brighter for so many of Oswego County’s families, especially in this difficult economic climate,” said Birdsell. “Regardless of the economic hardships people are confronted with, the community still stands by each other to provide a helping hand.”

Monetary donations and new, unwrapped toys are needed. To arrange for delivery or pick up of toy donations, call Birdsell at 963-5396, Lee at 963-5246, Myers at 963-5305 or Downey at 963-5361.

Checks should be made payable to United Way/Children’s Fund and mailed to the Oswego County United Way, c/o of Doreen Clark,1 S. First St., Fulton, NY 13069.

Bob and Mary, a City of Oswego couple, often relies on family and friends for coupons for food shopping. The family of three receives $30 a week in food assistance for 21 meals, which is roughly $1.42 per meal.

The face of welfare isn’t always one of abuse: Family of three survives on $30 a week for food

welfare
Bob and Mary, a City of Oswego couple, often relies on family and friends for coupons for food shopping. The family of three receives $30 a week in food assistance for 21 meals, which is roughly $1.42 per meal.

by Carol Thompson

Bob and Mary are statistics of unemployment, victims of the recession, recipients of public assistance, and targets of snide and often hurtful comments.

It wasn’t always that way for the City of Oswego couple, who were once gainfully employed by the now-belly-up company that thrust them from middle class into the throes of poverty.

With so much recent publicity in regard to the abuse of public assistance, Bob and Mary wanted to tell their story and offered The Valley News the opportunity to spend a week with them at meal and grocery shopping times to witness first-hand how they cope with being recipients of food benefits.

Bob and Mary receive food stamps, in the form of a benefit card, that equates to $30 per week. With this money, they feed a family of three.

Shopping with the benefit card brings stares, glares and often rude comments that cause Mary’s eyes to swell with tears.

“We didn’t ask for this,” she said on a  recent late night Wednesday grocery trip. “I can’t believe I’ve worked all my life, ask for a little help and get treated like a leper.”

Mary decided to tell her story following a July shopping incident. “My daughter is five and she was suffering from a fever that caused her to dehydrate,” she said. “When we got home from the hospital, I did as the doctor advised and got her Popsicles because she wasn’t holding anything down. When I was checking out, a woman behind me in line scolded me for buying treats with ‘her’ money.”

Mary made her purchases and left, with the woman continuing to say unkind words in the parking lot as she was loading her groceries. “I never said a word to her but I cried the entire way home,” she said.

Mary said the comments she hears aren’t fair. “We are working poor,” she said. “My husband and I have jobs. They aren’t good paying jobs like we had for many years but they are jobs and we are willing to do any type of work to stay off the welfare rolls.”

According to Oswego County Department of Social Services Director Gregg Heffner, Bob and Mary, whose surname isn’t being used to protect their privacy, are among one-third of the working poor receiving food assistance.

There are approximately 9,000 cases of food stamps in the county with approximately 3,000 of those open cases for those with jobs who cannot make ends meet. Among the two-thirds of unemployed residents receiving food benefits, many are elderly.

The application for food assistance sat on Bob and Mary’s table for months before they submitted it to DSS. “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” Bob said. “Admitting that I couldn’t feed my family cut like a knife.”

Food assistance was a last resort for the couple. They lived off their severance pay and unemployment benefits before raiding their life savings.

“It was costly to maintain our health insurance but we had to do it,” Mary said. “That took a good deal of our funds.”

When the unemployment benefits and savings ran dry, they sold everything they could, including their home. “We hadn’t owned our home long and in this economy, we were only able to sell it for slightly over what we paid,” she said. “We had a minimal amount to put in our pocket after our mortgage was paid but we were able to stretch our money for another year.”

Now renters, Bob and Mary are able to meet their monthly obligations with little public assistance.

“We don’t pay our bills late, we have nothing more than necessities but we couldn’t stretch our income enough to buy food,” she said. “Winters are hard because the heat bills are so high, even though the thermostat stays at 60 degrees. I don’t do laundry as often, we removed our cable service so we only get local channels and we removed our house phone. We sold one of our cars and kept one so we could get out job hunting.”

Mary is resourceful when shopping, not only because she is aware there is much disdain for welfare recipient’s, but because she has to provide 21 meals per week with $30.

“I have roughly $1.42 per meal to feed the three of us,” she said. “Bob and I prepare lunches to bring to work and now that our daughter is in school, we send her with a bag lunch. We probably could get her the free lunch program but we refuse to put our daughter through the same stigma that we face.”

Mary shops late at night to avoid the comments and stares. “It’s much less crowded at night,” she said. “I can usually find an empty line and have no one behind me.”

Mary plans out a weekly menu of dishes that can be stretched beyond one meal. She relies on friends to provide her with coupons so that she’s not spending money on newspapers and she prepares her menu based on sale items.

At the grocery store, food items are carefully selected and Mary sticks to her list. A large vat of goulash is on the menu because Mary can stretch it out for three dinners.

“We get tired of eating the same thing all the time but we have no choice,” she said. “We have to spend in a month what most people spend in a week. We are blessed to have friends who will drop off cereal for our daughter or fresh vegetables and fruit.  There is no way we could provide without the help of our friends.”

Both college educated, Mary and Bob said they would be thrilled to secure the higher paying jobs they once held.

To read the rest of the story, pick up the latest copy of The Valley News. You may also subscribe to the paper by calling 598-6397

200376568-001

County committee presented with updated DSS project plans

DSSby Carol Thompson

What began as an asbestos abatement ceiling project for the Oswego County Department of Social Services (DSS) has turned into a major renovation with a price tag estimated to be over $1.3 million.

Members of the legislature’s Infrastructure and Facilities Committee received a project update Tuesday from Kevin Terry of Ithaca-based Tetra Tech Architects and Engineers.

The project includes the abatement of ceiling tiles and minor floor finishes, modular furniture relocation and reinstallation, painting, carpeting, creation of a new file storage room, miscellaneous wall repairs and replacement of IT and telephone cabling and selected network equipment.

The abatement scope includes construction of a contamination area, removal of carpet, removal of ceiling mounted devices, removal of ceiling tiles in the 1973 constructed wing, removal of data and telephone cabling above ceilings, cleaning, air testing, physical inspection and removal of containment area.

The repair work includes new ceiling tiles, carpet, wall painting, minor floor repairs, the creation of a file storage room, new IT and wiring, power to work stations and a uniform modular furniture layout.

The contracts are expected to be bid next week with a pre-bid meeting held Nov. 12. Bids will be due Dec. 6 with contract awards expected mid-December.

The Mexico DSS staff will be moved into a temporary facility by the end of the year and construction will begin Dec. 31.

Substantial completion is expected April 19 and the project close-out is anticipated May 1.

The abatement contract is estimated to be $214,250 and the general contract is estimated at $441,540. The modular furniture and loose equipment estimated to cost $107,700 and other furniture is estimated at $20,000.

To read the rest of the story, pick up the latest copy of The Valley News. You may also subscribe to the paper by calling 598-6397

Legislators critical of college

by Carol Thompson

When the Oswego County Department of Social Services found a temporary home while asbestos abatement is underway, not all legislators approved of the rental fee that will need to be paid.

When the Oswego County Legislature met Thursday, a lease agreement with Cayuga County Community College sparked discussion.

The college agreed to temporarily house the employees while the work is under construction at a cost of $5 per square foot for 19,900 square feet.

Minority Leader Mike Kunzwiler asked how the price was derived. County Administrator Phil Church said it was done through negotiations with the college.

Legislator James Karasek said he had concerns with the lease. He said when Cayuga County Community College recently held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the expansion that it was noted the Oswego County campus is now larger than the Cayuga County campus.

The result, Karasek said, is that more students will be enrolling in the Oswego County campus. County taxpayers are required under state law to pay for one-half of each students tuition.

“It’s eating up their tax bills,” Karasek said of the tuition. “My concern with this is that many times the college comes to us for support.”

Karasek said he is not opposed to higher education. “I’m very disappointed that the college that has empty, vacant space would come back to the county and charge them anything,” he said.

If anything, Karasek noted, the college should have rented the space for one dollar.

To read the rest of the story, pick up the latest copy of The Valley News. You may also subscribe to the paper by calling 598-6397