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Press Release

Publish Date: 8/28/2018

Release: County Legislators Commend DSS Eligibility Unit

Employees Recognized for Compassion, Dedication

FONDA - Staff in the Eligibility Unit of the Department of Social Services (DSS) is constantly putting out fires, but not the kind that involve heat and flames.

"We grapple with some of the most intense human problems and there is a room full of laws that we must use to fix these problems," Department of Social Services Commissioner Michael McMahon said. "We can't tell our story, but we put out fires all day long," he said. "There's never going to be a parade for our caseworkers or eligibility workers."

Staff was, however, recognized Tuesday by the County Legislature with a proclamation for the dedication and passion they put into the Eligibility Unit.

The employees link clients who are in need to programs such as: Medicaid, Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance or Employment. Age and background of clients vary. Sometimes these individuals are struggling with addiction, mental illness, homelessness or were recently released from prison.

The Eligibility Unit umbrella includes: two head social welfare examiners, 21 social welfare examiners, two principal examiners, four senior examiners and a caseworker. These positions are supported by three receptionists, two senior clerk typists, four clerk typists and contract interpreters. The job training developer and four welfare employment representatives handle the employment aspect of the Eligibility Unit.

Social welfare examiners determine client eligibility for federal and state mandated programs. The senior social welfare examiner is responsible for the intake process. Individuals seeking assistance are screened to determine their eligibility before a social welfare examiner takes on their cases. The process is extensive and clients must meet certain qualifications to be eligible. Depending on their situation, such as being exempt from work activities due to a physical or mental illness, a client may be required to apply for jobs or receive job skills training in order to maintain their eligibility in the programs offered.

"The ultimate goal is to give the vulnerable population self-sufficiency," McMahon said.

The welfare employment representative identifies work skills of recipients who are in one of the programs listed above. They interview clients and identify work skills in an attempt to place them in suitable positions.

Job Training Developer Kevin Getman works with clients to create an employment plan. Clients will create short-term and long-term goals related to their job search. Sometimes clients participate at a work site to gain job experience. Putting in hours with an employer might be a requirement for them to remain eligible for a specific assistance program and is beneficial to their resume. Clients may be hired by these employers after gaining work experience.

Staff Development Coordinator Stephanie Tamsett worked as a social welfare examiner for seven years and also as a welfare employment representative for a short time.

"It sounded like I would be able to help people," she said.

Tamsett said clients may need guidance dressing for interviews or adjusting to a work routine.

"We mentor them through the job search process, from filling out applications, appropriate dress, timeliness and attendance to proper tardiness/ call out procedures," Tamsett said.

Staff in the Eligibility Unit is all working towards the same goal of helping their clients gain self-sufficiency through education and support.

"What we are hoping for is they close the case, found a job and are self-sufficient," Confidential Secretary Melissa Schaufelberg said.

"I tell my clients that I hope I never see you again, but not in a negative way," Getman said.

Department of Social Services Deputy Commissioner Thomas Lippie said the Eligibility Unit is impressive.

"They are so hardworking and there is great satisfaction for what they do in this job," he said.