Are the rules too strict for those who get public assistance in Monroe County?

Are the rules too strict for those who get public assistance in Monroe County?

Some recipients think so, and they say it's leading to homelessness.

About two dozen people protested outside of the Monroe County Office Building on Friday citing a new report, compiled by Harry Murray, a sociology professor at Nazareth College, that shows Monroe County rejects more than 70-percent of public assistance applications and sanctions more recipients every month than offices in Buffalo, Syracuse and New York City.

Many of the protestors either are or have been on welfare. They say Monroe County is unfairly strict when it comes to the rules about breaking the rules.

"You can get sanctioned for missing an appointment, not bringing proper documents, not showing up for a work program on-time," says Patrick Braswell.

Braswell has been on public assistance in the past and says he faced a 30-day sanction when he failed to show up for an appointment because he got called into work.

When a recipient is sanctioned, benefits stop, normally for at least 30 days.

"They sanctioned me because I couldn't work so now, I'm not entitled to no benefits so, how am I going to feed myself? How am I going to take care of myself?" wondered Louis Robinson Jr.

Murray's report compares sanction numbers from Monroe (Rochester), Onondaga (Syracuse) and Erie (Buffalo) counties as well as all five counties that make-up the New York City area.

The numbers show that Monroe County has issued more drug and alcohol and employment sanctions over the last two years than all of New York City, despite the fact that NYC has 10 times the number of public assistance recipients.

Messenger Post's news partner, News10NBC's Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke: "Is it possible that Monroe County is just better at enforcing the sanctions than other counties and areas?"

Harry Murray: "Um, depending on how you define better…counties have a great deal of judgment involved in terms of how they actually implement whatever the rules are."

Lewke: "A lot of taxpayers will look at this information and say, 'well, it looks like Monroe County is doing a good job at making sure that the rules are followed' and these are recipients who are getting taxpayer money?"

Murray: "Um, well... first the statistics alone will not tell us whether Monroe County is doing a good job or whether it's being unfair relative to other counties."

But a protest was called on Friday to argue the latter.

"While they go home to their comfortable little houses and their beds, these are state workers, they getting paid and we come there asking for help and we get denied but they go home and sleep sound," Robinson Jr. says.

In a statement to News10NBC, Monroe County Spokesman Jesse Sleezer says:

"The Monroe County Department of Human Services (MCDHS) appreciates the support and assistance of all community stakeholders who share an interest in improving outcomes for at-risk residents in our community. However, the data and underlying assumptions in this narrative are inaccurate. Additionally, it is important to note that all sanctions implemented by a local social service district are mandated by state law and regulation – MCDHS has no authority to set or alter state mandated policies.

What is indisputable is that existing MCDHS policy is producing improved outcomes for at-risk residents and families across Monroe County. From January of 2016 through January of 2018, MCDHS's temporary assistance caseload dropped from over 12,600 to under 10,300 – an unprecedented decrease of 18%. During that time, MCDHS also increased the number of temporary assistance clients who gained employment by 12% - by far the largest increase among all major counties outside of New York City. MCDHS will continue to work with local stakeholders to build on this record of success moving forward."

Sleezer also says that the county did have a discussion with the NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and the state does not believe Monroe County has any systematic issues with how its implementing regulations.