Press-Republican

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April 15, 2014

Social Services housing detective suggested

ELIZABETHTOWN — The proliferation of unsafe rental properties occupied by Essex County Department of Social Services clients has raised calls for a solution from county lawmakers.

Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) told the County Board of Supervisors Human Services Committee on Monday that his town just evicted a family with small children who were living in squalor.

“The conditions were just horrendous,” he said. “These are bad situations. We have to get a handle on this.”

Scozzafava had previously asked for Department of Social Services inspections of housing its clients are renting but was told by County Department of Social Services Commissioner John O’Neill that, due to a prohibition in state law, that can’t be done.

He said he spoke with Essex County Sheriff Richard Cutting and learned that Warren County handles those situations differently.

“Warren County has someone on staff who goes out there and does visits, which we have a legal right to do if they’re receiving social assistance,” Scozzafava said.

‘BAD SITUATION’

“Warren County has their own detective assigned to Social Services,” Cutting told the committee. “He takes the applications for Social Services benefits, and the deputy goes out and verifies those applications.”

The deputy prevented $1 million in false Social Services claims the first year of the program, he said.

The sheriff said if he dedicates a deputy to Social Services application inquiries, “it leaves a gap in my structure.”

Scozzafava said he’d support creating another position to do the investigations and property inspections.

“I tell you something bad is going to happen,” he said.

Scozzafava said his town codes officer goes out to inspect rental properties when he knows there’s a problem.

“The problem once they’re in there, it’s harder (to inspect the housing),” he said. “It’s just a bad situation. For the life of me, I don’t understand why (Social Services) caseworkers can’t go out and make visits, but they can’t.”

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