Manchester Welfare Commissioner Q&A
November 01. 2013 11:56PM
1) What is the proper role of the Welfare Department?
2) The state Supreme Court ruled last year that the Welfare Department had imposed assistance guidelines that conflicted with state law. Are the guidelines too stringent? If so, how would you change the application process?
3) The amount of money that the department pays in assistance has declined over the past decade to the point that it makes up less than 40 percent of its budget, while salaries make up the largest share. Is this a problem? If so, how would you change this?
Paul R.R. Martineau
Occupation: Welfare Commissioner
Relevant experience: Graduate of Wake Forest College – B.A; captain U.S Army – Military Police Corps 1963-1967; Hesser College – Associate Degree in Business Management & Accounting; assessor – City of Manchester – 21 years; elected to 1st Charter Commission - 1982
1) The role of the Welfare Department is broadly defined by NH RSA 165:1: "Whenever a person in any town is poor and unable to support himself, he shall be relieved and maintained by the overseers of public welfare of such town, whether or not he has a residence there." The Welfare Department assists with basic living expenses such as rent, food, medication and utility assistance for eligible persons when there are no other resources. The process of making this determination is made by applying the Manchester City Welfare Guidelines and NH Statutes 165. Caseworkers must verify all information and resources to determine if the person is in fact eligible for assistance; and if so, the type and amount of assistance that will be provided.
2) When I reviewed the guidelines in 2006 there was no specific penalty for fraud. A six month denial of assistance was included in the guidelines for misrepresentation/omission of information, i.e. fraud. This penalty is imposed by the federal and state governments in cases involving misrepresentation. Why is it OK for the federal and state government, but not for municipal government? These General Assistance Guidelines were reviewed by NH Legal Assistance and the City Solicitor prior to adoption by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and implemented by the Welfare Department. We have fully complied with the NH Supreme Court decision. Our General Assistance Guidelines are not too stringent. They are based on the NH Municipal Association Model Welfare Guidelines. The application process is necessary to gather the required information to make an informed decision to provide the needed assistance to relieve the needs of the applicant.
3) Since 2002 my department has spent $5.2 million dollars in providing aid to house the homeless and help clients maintain their living quarters. We have expended $1.1 million during this same period in providing other basic needs such as: food, medication, fuel, utilities, clothing, transportation and interpreter services for non English speaking applicants. Our salary line item represents 68% of our budget. The salary line item for most city departments averages 88% of their budget. Our salaries are not a problem. My staff is paid commensurate with their responsibilities. Each day caseworkers have to make serious decisions concerning assistance to applicants. They conduct an intensive interview and a review of applicant's resources to determine eligibility; and the amount of assistance to be provided. They must establish budgets to insure maximum usage of all available funds. The Welfare Department is legally mandated to provide assistance and has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers.
Diane L. Guimond
Occupation: Paraprofessional at Webster Street School in the Emotional and Behavioral Program
Relevant Experience: BA in Psychology with Graduate Studies in Counseling; State of NH Certified Public Supervisor; City of Manchester Welfare Department employed 13 years; Lee, NH, town administrator 7 years
1) In accordance with the law the Welfare Commissioner's role is defined as "Whenever a person in any town is poor and unable to support himself, he shall be relieved and maintained by the overseers of public welfare of such town…" The Commissioner is the administrator of general assistance for individuals and families who may require emergency assistance. I will utilize a common sense approach in arriving at a decision which is best for the clients and the taxpayers. Assistance may be provided in the form of a referral to more than 80 agencies within Manchester. All decisions will be made free of bias, and in a strictly confidential manner.
2) In 2006, the current commissioner, as required by law, wrote the guidelines which were approved by the Mayor and Aldermen. The Supreme Court ruling in September 2012 simply states the guidelines must follow the law regarding the suspension process. In accordance to the law a client can be suspended for seven (7) days for misrepresenting or omitting information on the application. However, the current Commissioner's guidelines state six (6) months suspension which is at a higher standard than the state law allows. To date the guidelines have not been corrected to reflect the court's ruling. This is just one example where the current Commissioner fails to abide by the law by holding clients to a higher standard than the law allows. As the newly elected Commissioner I will ensure the application and guidelines will be aligned with the NH State Law to prevent future law suits.
3) Yes, it is a big problem. The answer is not to hold clients at a higher standard in order to save the department money. I would look at the budget in a responsible way. As a new commissioner, I will analyze the department's use of resources and staff to determine an appropriate balance between the number of clients applying and staff needed to provide efficient and effective services. When elected, my salary will be a direct savings to the taxpayers of approximately $36,000. If you want someone who is fiscally responsible, treats people with dignity and respect then I will need your vote on November 5th.