October 26, 2021

Another shortfall projected for DSS

Commissioner pins blame on rising costs, lower revenue, state

Cortland County Seal

Even though revenue for the Department of Social Services for 2019 is projected to come in higher than it did in 2018, the department still projects a $1.6 million shortfall — for the same reasons it had one in 2018.

“The 2019 budget was built based on our years of experience and budget logic that was used prior to 2018,” Kristen Monroe, the commissioner of social services, said in an email Thursday evening. “The surprises all caught up with us at the end of 2018 when it was too late to do anything to amend the 2019 budget numbers.”

The gap was accounted for in the 2020 budget, Monroe said, so it doesn’t change the amount of money the county expects to have on hand — about $11 million, before the Legislature votes to use $1.8 million to cover a gap in the budget instead of raising taxes. The county’s goal is to keep 10% of its budget, or $14 million. However, the expected gap because of less money from the state to an increase in social services spending, which contributed to a $1.9 million increase in the county’s share of the department budget.

“The taxpayer is feeling the brunt of the state pushing more mandates onto the county,” said Kevin Whitney (R-Cortlandville), the chairman of the legislature.

But the county knew this was coming and accounted for it in the 2020 budget.

The $1.6 million shortfall has already been figured into the fund balance for 2020, Monroe said, reading an email she got from Rob Corpora, the county director of information technology.

Monroe expects similarly low revenue in 2020.

“The difficult challenge going into 2020 is that we have to count on revenues being low, but our expenditures are also going up,’ she said.

The reason for the gap is the same as 2018 — the state is inconsistent with reconciliations, revenue has decreased for various reasons and costs have risen.

The department must spend money, then wait for state reimbursement.

“They settle them at best a couple months later and some of the funding streams they don’t settle for a year or more later,” she said. In fact, the county, like other counties, is waiting for the state to release child welfare revenue from 2016.

“We’ve been waiting all year for them to release that money,” she said. “We anticipate that to be somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000 in revenue that will come to us.”

The county is also waiting on Medicaid reconciliation for the fiscal year 2016-17, even as Monroe is expecting to see the reconciliation from 2017-18 That’s another couple hundred thousand dollars.

“I have no idea when those will be delivered,” she said. “I can’t understand or explain why the money is not being released by the department of budget. That could make 2019 look significantly better.”

While department income for 2019 is projected to be up — to $14.2 million from $14 million in 2018 — that’s still below than the $15.5 million average of 2015 to 2017. Part of that stems from a drop in state grants for foster care to $993,000 in 2019 from $1.2 million in 2018, even as the cost of providing the care has increased to $1.9 million from $1.7 million.

Monroe had said in March the cost per child was up to $100,000 — it’s now more like $200,000.
“… our foster care costs are increasing due to children needing more intensive costly services in residential centers,” she said.

The other increase was seen in Safety Net — a state cash assistance program.

“Costs are running over our 2019 budget by more than $200,000,” Monroe said, even though the case load remains fairly flat. “This is primarily due to higher costs per case as more people are at congregate care rehabilitation centers and/or homeless, which costs far more per month.”

The state reimburses the county only 21%.

“We really are at the mercy of the state,” Monroe said.

It’s crazy how the process works, said Legislator Ron VanDee (D-Cortland), chairman of the Health and Human Service Committee, which oversees the department.

“We’ve got the money coming and we don’t get it. It’s not right; it’s wrong,” he said. “You can’t control the state and you can’t control the federal government. You can write resolutions in support of telling them you don’t like it but you don’t get any place.”

Monroe and VanDee both said they are hoping the gap decreases.

“It is still a moving target,” Monroe said. “Right now we only have data through September.”