For years, the wisdom of the street said that it’s easier to sign up for benefits like food stamps in Sullivan County than it is in other locations. At a meeting of the county legislature on November 15, Randy Parker, the newly installed commissioner of the Department of Family Services (DFS), indicated that the perception of ease among potential applicants is, in fact, true.
In a discussion regarding the creation of a position of investigator to go after cases of “fraud, waste and abuse” among residents who apply for public benefit programs, he was asked whether the concern was “being blown out of proportion.”
He answered, “We hear anecdotal stories everyday of people saying ‘well, I got denied in Orange County and I heard it’s easy here, and I came here to apply.’ We had a situation within the last 30 days with someone flying here from California at his daughter’s request to make application for benefits, with the intention of establishing an address here with the daughter, and leaving and going back to California. And there are stories of people on the streets exchanging food stamp benefits for cash.”
He continued, “So I do not believe it is being blown out of proportion. I think we need to have a strong message when you come through the door that this is for emergency purposes only. We exist to get you through a difficult period but not to become a way of life.”
Parker said the practice of a resident selling a $400 food stamp card to a vendor for $100 cash is “prevalent” in the county, as is the fraudulent application for Medicaid benefits.
He received support in his request from legislator Cindy Geiger, who said, “You’re going to hear about fraud, waste and abuse. It’s at the state conferences. Sixty-two counties in the state are under the same mandate regarding Medicaid money, and it’s the largest expense in the state of New York as well as Sullivan County. So I think creating this position is absolutely the responsible thing to do.”
Parker said the creation of the position was part of a larger restructuring of the department that has resulted in a $1.8 million reduction of local tax dollars spent on DFS.
The salary for the position is projected to be about $70,000, with benefits bringing the actual total closer to $100,000. Lawmaker Kathy LaBuda questioned whether the salary could be lowered because the public may question spending that much money on one employee when the county is looking at a proposed 13.77% tax increase for 2013.
County manager David Fanslau said the county share of the salary would only be about $25,000, with the rest coming from other sources.
In the end, the legislature voted unanimously to create the position at the requested salary.