LOCKPORT – Perturbed by paying welfare benefits to people who have just moved into New York, the Niagara County Legislature is expected to vote Tuesday to call on Albany to impose a residency requirement for public assistance.
The county has done this several times before, as far back as 1992 and most recently in 2011. But the issue keeps cropping up.
Last week, at a meeting of a committee that sought to impose a building inspection requirement on property rented to welfare recipients, the question was asked again about how much newcomers cost the county in welfare benefits.
Social Services Commissioner Anthony J. Restaino the next day supplied the information to Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls.
According to Virtuoso, 204 people moved into the county from other states in 2012 and immediately applied for benefits. That cost the county $3.7 million in welfare and Medicaid costs.
In the first eight months of this year, 111 newcomers to New York applied in Niagara County and have cost the county $1.8 million.
New York counties must cover 25 percent of the cost of public assistance. Medicaid, in particular, is the largest item in the county budget.
Every state has Medicaid, which is partly funded by the federal government. Virtuoso said the real attraction for newcomers is New York’s Safety Net welfare program.
When President Bill Clinton signed a welfare reform law in 1996 that limited welfare to five years, New York decided to create a state-funded welfare program with no time limit.
“We’re the only state that has Safety Net. Even California did away with it,” Virtuoso said.
Tuesday’s resolution is sponsored by the Legislature’s Democratic minority. Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, has been on this case before.
He sponsored resolutions in 2009 and 2011 calling for residency requirements for public assistance programs.
“I know there are state constitutional limitations to certain actions, but despite that, we think this is a change that should be made,” Updegrove said.
His 2011 measure said that in 2010, 1,174 newcomers applied for Medicaid in Niagara County, 324 of them from those who had moved from out of state.
“The average expenditure on each case is $15,000,” Updegrove said.
“That’s why we’re asking the state to do something,” Virtuoso said. “There should be a six-month residency requirement, at least.”