State must reverse decision that will pull the plug on social enterprise project on East Side - The Buffalo News

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State must reverse decision that will pull the plug on social enterprise project on East Side

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo may be unaware of the calamity his bureaucrats are about to visit on a Buffalo-based social enterprise project that has made a difference in the lives of many low-income citizens. These men and women, some once on public assistance, have had their lives transformed and are now productive, hard-working, taxpaying citizens thanks to the Center for Transportation Excellence.

The governor must overturn a state Department of Health decision that will eliminate 40 jobs based on Buffalo’s East Side and, just as important, jeopardize millions of dollars in U.S. Department of Labor workforce training funds.

Since 2007, the state has contracted with the Center for Transportation Excellence to manage transportation services for Medicaid recipients in Erie County. The CTE has performed that service efficiently while doing much more for the community. Yet the Department of Health has decided to award the work to Syracuse-based Medical Answering Services.

This isn’t just about the elimination of more than 40 jobs at 401 E. Amherst St. on Buffalo’s East Side. It is about a real-life collaborative effort that has meant reliable, cost-effective and efficient transportation for Medicaid patients.

Since its founding, the company has paid more than $4 million in wages to residents of Buffalo’s East Side and has added $1.2 million in non-wage expenditures to the Western New York community.

Moreover, the CTE has saved New York State and Erie County more than $5 million in the seven years it has provided Medicaid mobility services.

The CTE has garnered millions of dollars in grants over the years and grown into an invaluable community asset, and yet Department of Health officials have indicated that the decision to move the jobs from Buffalo was not based on pricing but on capability issues relating to the CTE response, whatever that means. The state scored two out-of-town competitors higher than the Buffalo-based company for familiarity with the Western New York region. Such a claim would be laughable if the situation were not so dire.

Medical Answering Services provides transportation services in many counties in the state. Extending the company’s reach to Erie County would have such negative consequences that it shouldn’t be allowed.

The CTE was founded through a collaborative effort of more than 100 community stakeholders. It started with about $5.5 million in private investment, in addition to a $750,000 Empire State Development grant and $25,000 of county funding for transportation services.

The CTE has worked in partnership with the Los Angeles-based Latino Coalition to help secure a $10 million, 30-month grant from the federal Department of Labor. The Department of Health’s decision jeopardizes $2.6 million of that funding currently in use in Buffalo by four nonprofit organizations and the CTE to conduct casework and workforce training for ex-offenders and high school dropouts.

Already, the Latino Coalition has written to say that because of the state’s decision it is forced to begin reducing the CTE’s training allocation. The Department of Health’s decision makes no sense. The governor must overturn it.

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