The meeting of the Sullivan County Health and Family Services Meeting was packed with onlookers at the government center on June 6, with many people coming to show support for Dr. David Sager, who had recently been fired from his job as deputy commissioner of the Division of Family Services (DFS).
During public comment several people took to the podium to praise Sager, who is a former county legislator, and his work with DFS, and question why this was not being addressed by the legislators. Supporter Liz Bucar asked if the legislators had been instructed not to talk about the case publicly.
Legislator Cindy Gieger said she was not instructed not to talk about the case by the county attorney. She also said she had no advance knowledge of the firing and was “shocked” when she learned about it. She said she is reviewing county policy regarding “at will” employees, who unlike civil service and union employees can be terminated for no reason.
Stepping away slightly from their usual practice of declining to discuss personnel issues, other legislators at the meeting also said they had no advance knowledge of the termination. Sager, who was present at the meeting, said he was attempting to bring into the public sphere the reason he was terminated.
Perhaps that is why commissioner Randy Parker decided to tell at least one newspaper that he decided to terminate Sager, who is a chiropractor, because of his lack of experience in social services.
The Sager issue played out as information about a number of other significant issues was discussed.
Women Infants and Children
Parker said his office had begun a dialogue with state officials about whether the county would continue to provide the federal Women Infants and Children (WIC) once the county contract expires in October 2014. WIC provides funding for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant and postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.
WIC is a non-mandated program, but Parker called in an “absolutely necessary service.” He said if the county stopped being the provider, the state would look for other local providers to administer the program.
Sandy Oxford called consideration of the elimination of the program “reckless.” She said her understanding was that the program is entirely paid for by the federal government.
Homeless housing down
Parker handed out a chart that showed that the number of homeless people the county is paying to house in motels has dropped significantly over the past three months. At the end of March the total number of people was 150, by the end of May that number had dropped to 84.
There were several reasons given for the significant drop including the exclusion of people who are not eligible for housing due to income, sanction, jail, rehabilitation or hospitalization. Another reason listed was “More stringent interview process to search out previous or alternative resource.”
Arrests for abuse and fraud
Gerald Dietz, the chief fraud investigator for DFS, said there had been a total of 21 arrests for waste fraud and abuse of social services over the past two months.
Legislator Gene Benson asked, “Is the amount that we’re saving outweighing the cost of putting some of these people in jail?”
Diets responded that the prosecutions have not yet been completed, but that because of the arrests, “there are a number of people who have called and are paying their obligations because they are worried about being arrested.”
Parker detailed some of the arrests that have been made. He said, “a local child care provider arrested for fraudulent bill submission, a local resident claiming that their child is in childcare when the child is not, an individual trying to sell their food stamp card for cash in a local grocery store, people working under the table not reporting their income, an individual who had $16,000 in his bank account coming in and saying he has no resources.”
Parker also said there are warrants out for fathers in 34 child support cases, where the fathers owe a total of $1.4 million in child support. Parker said, “Some of that money is owed back to the county for services that we had to provide to the mother and children because they weren’t getting child support payments."