Staff sought, help available

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 3/16/22

MONTICELLO, NY — Caring for the county’s vulnerable is critically important, but to make it happen, Sullivan County needs staff.

John Liddle, commissioner in charge of the …

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Staff sought, help available

Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — Caring for the county’s vulnerable is critically important, but to make it happen, Sullivan County needs staff.

John Liddle, commissioner in charge of the newly-renamed Division of Health and Human Services, appeared before the Sullivan County Legislature on March 10, providing legislators with updates on these services and on the challenges the division is facing as regards staffing.

Hiring staff continued to be the division’s toughest problem, said Liddle. It had seen progress on that front over the past few weeks, but it still struggled with entry-level positions and with levels of compensation.

The Department of Community Services, the county’s provider of mental health, alcohol and substance use-related services, had particular trouble hiring social workers, said Liddle, largely due to the rate of pay for those positions. “We did a survey of counties around the state, and we checked all of them. We are at the bottom in terms of licensed clinical… social worker salaries.”

The division’s report indicated that six full-time social worker positions and one addiction services counselor position were unfilled, and the division hoped to add six part-time social worker positions and one clinical program manager position.

The 2022 adopted county budget includes several tiers of assistant social worker positions, ranging between $43,129 and $51,355. It includes two tiers of staff social worker positions; the first tier is set at $55,473 and the three positions in the second tier are set at at $55,473, $57,786 and $74,328.

According to Indeed.com, the average base salary for a licensed clinical social worker in New York State is $70,527. Salary.com reports a slightly higher average of $78,000, with a range between $73,453 and $87,541.

Speaking after the meeting, Liddle said that the division had hoped to raise the salaries of its social workers in connection with the county’s union negotiations, but that that avenue had not so far achieved results, and that the division was working with county manager Josh Potosek on another path.

New names, no change to services

Sullivan County has seen some recent shifts in its governing bodies, as the legislature passed a revised administrative code on February 17.

As part of the changes, the county’s health offices have taken on new names. The Division of Health and Family Services has been renamed the Division of Health and Human Services. The departments within the division that deal with health and human services—departments formerly known as Family Services and Public Health Services—have been renamed the Department of Social Services and the Department of Public Health.

According to Liddle, the newly rechristened Division of Health and Human Services commissioner, the changes affect employee titles and department names, but do not affect the services those departments and their employees provide. “These name changes better align us with New York State’s office-naming system and are intended to eliminate confusion for the many state agencies with whom we regularly interact,” Liddle stated in a press release announcing the changes.

Stay warm

Giselle Steketee, the county’s director of temporary assistance, appeared before the legislature following Little’s update to discuss the positive impacts county assistance has had for the county’s residents.

The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), a statewide program helping low-income people pay for heating costs, is active in Sullivan County, with one regular benefit and two emergency benefits available. These benefits are scheduled to end on April 29.

So far, the county had provided over 6,000 HEAP benefits worth around $5.5 million in total, said Steketee. “So it’s definitely had a huge impact.”

The regular arrears supplement, a HEAP benefit that can pay off up to $10,000 of a household’s utility arrears, had also made a large impact in the county, said Steketee. To date, the county had processed 615 benefits for a total of $1.2 million. That program was scheduled to close March 15.

The Sullivan County HEAP office can be reached at 845/807-0142 and at heap@sullivanny.us; HEAP benefits can also be applied for through mybenefits.gov.

Caring for kids and the homeless

The county’s childcare services had also seen significant recent demand.

The state Office of Child and Family Services made regulatory changes December 1, 2021 with initiatives for families and childcare providers alike. Income limits went up and work requirements went down for households, and an initiative was put in place to pay childcare providers for up to 24 absences from a household’s children.

Since then, Sullivan County has seen a 26 percent increase in applications, said Steketee, “with people going back to work and needing [childcare].” In addition, childcare providers had the opportunity to apply for a stabilization grant for up to $19,000. Thirty-nine out of 42 providers in Sullivan County got a stabilization grant, which they used for enhanced services, for training, for outdoor playgrounds and the like.

Steketee also provided legislators with an update on the county’s housing assistance programs.

The total number of homeless individuals in the county was 164 as of January 31, including 120 adults and 44 children. The county is working with HONOR, a homeless shelter operating out of Middletown, to have case managers located at the motels that house Sullivan County’s homeless individuals. Those case managers work with the chronically homeless, trying to remove barriers to their progression from homelessness to a more stable situation.

“We’re seeing good success with that program,” said Steketee. “People are coming into compliance a lot more, so we don’t have the closing of the case and then the coming back.”

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