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Empire Justice Comments on Proposed Abolition of Local Advisory Councils

January 29, 2014

 

Jeanine S. Behuniak
New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance
40 North Pearl Street – 16-C
Albany, NY 12243-0001

RE: Local Advisory Councils
Proposed Regulation
ID # TDA-49-14-00001P

Dear Ms. Behuniak:

Empire Justice Center thanks you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed repeal of Part 341, and repeal and amendment of related regulations regarding Local Advisory Councils.

Empire Justice Center

Empire Justice Center is a not-for-profit law firm with offices in Rochester, Albany, White Plains, Yonkers and Central Islip, New York.  Empire Justice provides support services such as research, case assistance and the coordination of statewide training and substantive law task forces to civil legal service attorneys across New York State.

We also represent low income individuals, as well as classes of New Yorkers, in a wide range of poverty law and civil matters including public benefits, child support, Medicaid, consumer, immigration, social security and employment.  

For the reasons set forth more fully below, we strongly oppose this proposed repeal of Part 341, as well as the proposed repeal and amendment of related amendments.

1.  The Proposed Abolition of Local Advisory Committees will have an adverse effect on the development of child care programs that are responsive to the local community.

New York is one of a small minority of states in which our child care subsidy program, which is funded at almost one billion dollars annually, is state supervised, but locally administered.  In contrast to child care administration in most states, where eligibility is governed by uniform rules statewide, New York’s laws and regulations give social services districts broad discretion to develop their own eligibility criteria in 20-30 page local plans (see http://www.ocfs.state.ny.us/main/childcare/plans/plans.asp). Despite the fact that child care subsidies in New York State are almost entirely federally funded, local districts can create dozens of variations on the administration of the program, from payment of absences to parent copayments, to the kind of parental activities that the district will allow a parent to be engaged in when a child care subsidy is provided (school, work, looking for work). These options are put forth in local plans which are developed every three years, and submitted to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services for approval. They can be amended at any time (with OCFS approval).  Empire Justice Center periodically reports on the variations among the counties in our “Patchwork” reports, the most recent of which, Still Mending the Patchwork, was issued last year and is available at http://www.empirejustice.org/assets/pdf/publications/reports/still-mending-the-patchwork/still-mending-the-patchwork.pdf.

Currently, 18 NYCRR 407.10(a) requires two modest measures of community involvement before a district can make changes in the local plan which involve a reduction in services, a change in eligibility or a change in services.  First, publication of the change for public comment and second, that districts present the proposed change to the local advisory committee. This proposed regulation would amend 18 NYCRR 407.10(a) to remove the requirement that the local advisory committee be consulted.

The proposed regulation would remove any opportunity for meaningful dialogue with the affected community. Such a conversation is critical because community members may be able to present alternative ideas to avoid dramatic cuts which negatively affect the ability of low income working parents to remain employed and the well-being of their children. In the past, the failure of local districts to consult the Local Advisory Committee before amending its plan has invalidated the plan amendments. Matter of JC, fh# 5096311H (Monroe County 12/9/08); Matter of AC, fh# 5099742R (Monroe County 11/5/08), attached. [Link to Fair Hearings cited]

2.  The Repeal of Local Advisory Committees Conflicts with Social Services Law § 66(4)

Social Services Law § 66(4) requires every county social services commissioner to appoint a “citizens advisory committee.”

The regulatory impact statement accompanying the proposed regulation fails to mention how the repeal of the regulation requiring local advisory committees can be reconciled with this statute.

3.  Local Advisory Committees are good public policy

Local Advisory Councils serve a number of key functions: they promote interaction between a social services district and the community it serves; they establish relationships that might not otherwise be formed; they provide perspectives that social services officials might not otherwise receive; and they help distribute information regarding changes in agency policies and practices to the community. Many years ago, as an attorney in a neighborhood legal services office, I had the pleasure of serving on a local advisory committee, and worked closely on the development of a county developed domestic violence shelter, including policies regarding supportive services, admission and confidentiality policies. I was able to help develop sound policy because I was able to inform policy makers of issues faced by my clients. I also established invaluable relationships with local department of social services staff (some which continue 30 years later), that allowed me a line of communication to resolve problems for my clients without having to resort to litigation.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on these proposed regulations.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need additional information.

Very truly yours,
                         
Susan C. Antos
santos@empirejustice.org


cc: Roberto Velez,
      Acting Commissioner
      New York State Office of Children and Family Services

      Janice Molnar
      Director, Bureau of Child Care
      New York State Office of Children and Family Services