DSS may face cuts amid COVID crisis

The Fulton County Board of Supervisors’ Human Services Committee listens to Department of Social Services Commissioner Anne Solar, at the podium, at its meeting Tuesday at the County Office Building in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton County Department of Social Services — the county’s largest department — is getting ready for the impact of COVID-19.

The pandemic has been ongoing for months, but DSS is requesting budget adjustments as the department makes room for reimbursement for the state’s potential 20 percent withhold of funding.

DSS Commissioner Anne Solar outlined the situation for the Board of Supervisors’ Human Services Committee Tuesday at the County Office Building.

“It’s a very unstable year as far as needs and benefits,” she stated.

Solar requested a committee resolution authorizing various budget adjustments to align the current 2020 DSS budget to anticipated program needs and revenue levels. She said DSS needs to adjust appropriations to anticipated spending levels, and adjust revenues to accurately reflect reimbursement. She said DSS must also budget for contingencies.

She said no shifts in funding were made to reflect the potential 20 percent withhold. She said the adjusted numbers assume full reimbursement, and DSS will adjust for the 20 percent if needed later.

The DSS official said New York State Pause and economic changes has periodically prompted increased financial assistance applications and case openings during the pandemic. During some months, Solar said stimulus checks and increased unemployment benefit amounts forced closing of some financial assistance cases and reduced applications.

The eviction moratorium has affected emergency housing situations, Solar said. She also alluded to a possible “unstable situation” that may occur if state and federal policy changes and initiatives drive increases in the need for benefits the last quarter of the year. Closure of courts and schools reduced PINS petitions and possible placements in foster care, she said.

Solar said there has been a “significant” decrease in foster care placements. Enhanced services to families and school coordination has allowed DSS to reduce the placements, she said.

Meanwhile, the Committee of Special Education or CSE placements has shown account increases. Solar said the CSE cases went from two to eight in the county.

“We get reimbursement from the school districts,” Solar said.

She said there is increased revenue as local school districts reimburse DSS a portion of the costs.

In another area, she said many of the reductions in child welfare accounts are attributable to the limited number of Raise The Age Act cases, services and placements provided through DSS.

Solar said DSS needs to budget for all contingencies. When creating its budget, she said DSS must project for all possible expenditures in case they are needed.

“Given the high cost of placements and the many possible eligibility categories, it is very hard to gauge which account will need the highest level of funding,” she told supervisors. “As the year progresses, DSS has a better idea of what accounts are being used and can reduce the costs, revenues with this information.”

By Patricia Older