It's Not Just Us

“It's not just us.”

This is what I said to a friend when describing the current situation Allegany County public assistance recipients are dealing with. Trying to describe how Allegany County 'JobTrak' is using those on public assistance to cut corners and save money; it became clear that this could no longer be allowed to go on without someone speaking up. The following information is all cold, hard fact that has multiple forms of proof to back it up – just in case anyone trying to do 'damage control' for the county stops by.

Anyone that is unable to find work due to transportation problems, illness, or disability, that's who else. One of the people on the 'work crew' in this county is an elderly man, past retirement age and visually impaired.

What happens in Allegany County when you can't meet certain obligations set forth by the JobTrak/DSS rules?

They're abused. Harassed. Made to feel like trash and leeches. By the very people that are paid to help people in need. You see, in 1996 the government changed how 'welfare' worked. If you received assistance then you needed to work it off if you didn't find a job. That's fine, that's great. Or so it sounds. Let's take a look at the program and how it is supposed to work:

People on assistance receive help with their financial obligations. Rent, utilities, heating, and some cash in hand for necessities. These people are expected to work a certain number of hours per week or spend that time in search for gainful employment. If these people are unable to meet the required hours, they may be required to work on a crew in the county doing work that will help them learn skills to be self sufficient.

Sounds awesome! Sign me up, right?

Hold on a second...let's look at the reality:

Begin at the 'required hours' portion. What you're not told is that if you do not have transportation no one will provide it to you. Most social service departments in NY state will help by giving bus tokens or other means of transportation. In Allegany County the recipients are told, “We don't do that.”

(Legal aid of Western New York had to force the department to comply with state regulations in this area)

If you have no transportation and they deny you any, you are 'sanctioned' if you cannot comply with the requirements. When you are sanctioned it basically means your benefits are cut to some degree or stopped altogether. NO MATTER IF THE DEPARTMENT REFUSES TO HELP YOU COMPLY.

Work requirements are chosen by the JobTrak employees. Those involved in the program must have physicals to determine if they are eligible to do physical labor.

A doctor or the Health Department can fill out the medical release forms. There's three areas to be checked: No limitations, Some Limitations(2-4 hours), Disabled (cannot do in any capacity). The doctor(s) may write in the nature of the limitations, but the fun part – JobTrak and the employees have FINAL SAY on if a person is exempt from physical labor or not. That's right, a person that is not a medical professional makes final determination on how physically limited a person is no matter what a doctor has written on the forms.

People are then taken to job sites where there may be no clean water to drink, no bathroom facilities, and no proper tools. They are not allowed normal work related breaks per rules from the Department of Labor. Why not? Because JobTrak and other workfare entities call the workers 'volunteers'. One county worker at a local cemetery told a 'volunteer' who inquired about a break, “Breaks? You people don't get breaks.”

You people.

A fun fact that many aren't aware of is that the work JobTrak forces public assistance recipients into doing is the same work that the county requires from parolees. Community service. UNPAID – even counting the amount of financial assistance the hourly wages are far, far below minimum wage. That's right, if you are poor in Allegany County, NY then you are treated the same as people who have committed crimes.

The crime of being poor.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. In coming days I'll be sharing more of the corruption in this county and asking the question of Governor Cuomo and his welfare to work committee: WHY?

Why are the poor treated as criminals?

Why does DSS have the right to break HIPPA laws?

Why can Allegany County (and other DSS offices) break NYS ODTA regulations?

Why are the poor not allowed normal breaks?

Why is any of this allowed to happen?

Why is raking leaves and picking up trash promoted as self sufficiency training?

Why isn't JobTrak and the 'Employment and Training Center' soliciting employment for participants from companies?