Tonawanda News

Local News

September 13, 2013

Welfare housing inspections nixed

(Continued)

Tonawanda News — County lawmakers and county landlords got behind the exploratory committee after critics of the direct-pay order pointed out it strips welfare recipients of their power to withhold rent for substandard housing. Requiring rental units to pass inspection before Social Services starts cutting housing checks would protect both the recipients and taxpayers, supporters agreed.

It’s not to be, unless the state changes its laws, committee members said. Counties and Social Services units don’t have authority or the ability to enforce building codes; that regulatory work is assigned to cities and towns only, County Manager Jeffrey Glatz said.

Also, Temporary Assistance is a state program, and while counties are now paying the lion’s share of the tab, the only role they’re allowed in the award of assistance is to determine residents’ eligibility for it.

Temporary Assistance also is known as “Safety Net” assistance. It’s New York state’s response to the 5-year limit imposed by the federal government on recipients of Temporary Aid to Needy Families. Safety Net assistance can go indefinitely to families that exhausted their TANF benefits — and while the state used to split the cost 50/50 with its counties, within the past couple of years it changed the cost-sharing formula and counties are now saddled with 79 percent. Niagara County’s Safety Net bill will be about $8 million this year, according to Legislator Richard Updegrove, R-Lockport.

Updegrove proposed, and the rest of the committee agreed to recommend, the county Legislature call on the state Legislature to reform or scrap the Safety Net program. He already doubts any proposal to alter the Safety Net would get by the state Assembly, however.

“Assembly Democrats (who control the house) didn’t change the law to make sex offender residency requirements at least as stringent as ours, so good luck with that,” he said.

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