Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava wants to have more power when it comes to knowing what Social Services monies are going to.
The problem is, according to department director John O’Neill, there is not much more they can do.
Scozzafava asked O’Neill during the Sept. 10 Human Services Committee meeting if the Social Services Department could do more to make sure that money that was being used for rent and other assistance could be more closely monitored, including inspections of apartments where those on assistance were living.
“I just think that we have to try and find more ways to have more accountability on some of these rental units,” Scozzafava said. “You could let the code enforcement officer in that community know that we are paying for the apartment of John Doe and we want to make sure that the place is in proper condition.”
O’Neill said that the department had no legal grounds to do that.
“We are doing everything that we legally can,” O’Neill said.
“We are paying the rent yet we have no right to go into that apartment to make sure that it is a place that can be lived in safely?” Scozzafava again asked.
“Do you want me to keep answering the same question? Yes, that is right,” O’Neill said. “I have many times looked into what we can and cannot do. We are bound by confidentiality, we are bound by regulations, we are bound by manpower. The only authority that we have is to send the landlord the check.”
Chesterfield Supervisor Gerald Morrow said that he had a similar situation in his community and could not inspect the apartment.
“We cannot do it because there is not a change of usage happening,” Morrow said. “If there was a change of usage, and the new tenant reported something, then we can do it.”
O’Neill said that in the last two months, there were 169 applications for assistance in Essex County, with 47 being approved.
O’Neill also said that any money needed for rent is sent directly to landlords.
“If they have a place that they have to pay the rent, we send the money directly to the landlord, so there is almost no discretionary money,” he said.
O’Neill also answered a question posed by Elizabethtown Supervisor Margaret Bartley.
“I was under the impression that if you get food stamps, you have to buy food with it,” Bartley explained. “I was told that they get a card now and they can use it for cigarettes or candy or other items.”
“You can't buy anything,” O’Neill said. “I was in Stewart's the other day and they asked me if we could do more to educate the people more on what the food stamps do because they were coming in thinking that they could buy anything.”