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March 31, 2006

DSS Receives Work Participation Award from State Commissioner

MEXICO – Despite ups and downs in the local economy, people who receive temporary assistance benefits from the Oswego County Department of Social Services (DSS) are more likely to get a job than social services recipients in many other areas of New York State.

When agencies across the state recently gathered to discuss the “welfare-to-work” performance targets, Oswego County was recognized for exceeding the state participation standard for clients that enter the workforce. Robert Doar, Commissioner of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, presented the award for exemplary performance to members of the county’s DSS staff.

“The award is well-deserved,” said county Legislator John Proud, chairman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. “Not very many counties meet or exceed the statewide work participation average. In our case, we consistently had more clients finding jobs and entering the workforce, even when our unemployment rate was higher than some other counties. This is really a credit to how well our staff prepares clients for transitioning from temporary assistance to finding a job that provides income for the household.”

In addition to Legislator Proud (District 7, Mexico), the Health and Human Services Committee includes vice chairwoman Barbara Brown, District 8, Palermo; Daniel Chalifoux, District 19, Minetto; Arthur Gearsbeck, District 6, West Monroe; Leonard Ponzi, District 17, Oswego; Paul Santore, District 16, Oswego; and Kim Seager, District 10, Phoenix.

Years ago, said Frances Lanigan, Commissioner of the county Department of Social Services, the focus of public assistance was to provide income and benefits. Today, that assistance is temporary. The focus is to move clients toward self-sufficiency as soon as possible. That message is instilled when a person applies for benefits, and continues until they’re no longer eligible.

“Before welfare reform, some people saw their benefits as a means of income that was carried from one generation to the next,” said Lanigan. “The welfare reforms of the past decade have shifted the focus to getting clients ready for work, and to help them find a job. A case management team works closely with individuals to help them overcome barriers to employment, develop skills and look for work. Clients learn how to manage a household budget, develop problem-solving skills, and receive appropriate support services while they’re getting ready to enter employment. Our staff works as a team to optimize the support services available to each client.”

Louise Scheuerman, director of assistance programs for the county Department of Social Services, exemplifies her agency’s commitment to helping people get back on their feet.

“We stress employment right from the beginning of a case,” said Scheuerman. “Social services assistance is meant to be temporary, and for most people it is temporary. It helps them out when something bad has happened in their life – often a divorce or a medical problem – that could happen to anyone.”

Clients must make at least five work contacts a week. Their employment plan, workshops, and job search activities are monitored every month by a case management team that consists of employment services, income maintenance, and child support staff.

“Clients are required to be actively looking for work, and we provide a variety of ways to help them do that,” said Christine Weaver, coordinator of client services for the Division of Employment and Training. “They develop resumes, participate in employment workshops, and have access to phones and computers to help in their job search. Our staff, the state Department of Labor, and many other community agencies work together to help people transition into the workforce.”

Any Oswego County resident can use the resources of the Career Connection Centers, located at the Spring Street, Mexico office and the County Branch Office Building in Fulton.

The centers serve more than 2,500 customers a year. The numbers fluctuate, depending on local and regional employment conditions, but the goal remains the same.

“I can’t tell you how many phone calls I’ve received from clients over the years, calling to tell me that they’ve gotten that job,” said Scheuerman.

“It takes a team effort to reach that goal,” added Lanigan. “Each success story is a tribute to everyone involved in the case.”

For information, call the Department of Social Services at 963-5000 or Employment and Training Services at 591-9000.

DSS STAFF RECEIVES STATE AWARD – Oswego County’s “welfare-to-work” program received an exemplary performance award from New York State for the high number of clients that become self-sufficient. From left are members of the legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, Paul Santore, Daniel Chalifoux, Kim Seager, committee vice chairwoman Barbara Brown; Christine Weaver, Coordinator of Client Services; committee chairman John Proud; Commissioner of Social Services Frances Lanigan; Peggy Balcolm, principal social welfare examiner; Leonard Ponzi, and Legislature Chairman Russ Johnson. Absent from the photo is Louise Scheuerman.

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