Hard times may soon hit the Passaic County Board of Social Services, which is facing an $800,000 budget cut at a time when the demand for food stamps, Medicaid and family assistance is rising.
The county welfare agency is being asked to share the pain as the county government looks for ways to close an anticipated $6.5-million hole in its budget. Passaic CountyBSS director Mark Schiffer last week received a letter from the county Freeholder Board requesting an $800,000 reduction in the agency’s $51.9 million budget in 2011.
Schiffer delivered the bad news to a BSS finance committee on Tuesday. He said an $800,000 cut would have to be absorbed through layoffs of staff at a time when the agency has a backlog of cases.
“We’re in a recession, and this is the time that people come to us for help,” Schiffer said, adding that the number of applications for assistance has risen by 60,000 in the past year.
The Board of Social Services is the second county department to face the threat of layoffs. Earlier this month, the county sent layoff notices to 90 employees of the county Sheriff’s Department, which must absorb a budget cut of $4.3 million in 2011.
The county must find $6.5 million in the 2011 budget to continue funding its liability insurance and workers’ compensation pools and to replenish a pension fund that administers benefits to about 90 elderly retirees.
The four Democrats on the freeholder board favor bonding — taking out more debt — of about $23 million to cover the costs, but the three Republicans are opposed to adding any new debt. Bonding requires five votes of approval.
Schiffer was uncertain how many layoffs it would take to slice $800,000 from the budget. He said the Board of Social Services will take up the issue of budget cuts when it next meets on Jan. 20.
The Board of Social Services administers an array of safety net programs for the poor and disabled at its office on Hamilton Street in Paterson.
Among the biggest programs are food stamps, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which offers rental subsidies, cash, and help with utilities for those who meet income guidelines.
Almost all of the money for these programs comes through state and federal grants. Passaic County taxpayers kicked in $15.2 million in 2010 as their share of the budget.
Passaic CountyFreeholder Deborah E. Ciambrone, the liaison to the Board of Social Services, said Tuesday there was still time to avert layoffs. She was encouraged that the Sheriff’s Department recently returned to the county over $1 million in unused funds from its 2010 budget.
“I think we have to look at each department and see if the money is there,” she said. “We feel there is money somewhere in the budget and that layoffs may not be as necessary.”
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