Playing politics with the NYS Collocation Project grant
By Lee Chowaniec
Mar 18, 2008, 09:13

The Buffalo News reports that County Executive Chris Collins has opted to change the nature of a state grant contract by taking the state’s funding but deeming their administering the contract conditions was “inefficient” and that the county would administer the program, or maybe there would be no program.

The New York State Offices of Child and Family Services and Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services granted Erie County $4.2 million over three years to implement a Collocation Program between the two agencies.

The program was approved by the Erie County Legislature in 2007 and was endorsed by the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority (control board).

Collins and his administration officials declare that there are county caseworkers that already focus on drugs, as do numerous not-for-profit organizations, and that state grant money, no matter how you want to look at it, is still funded by taxpayers.

According to the Buffalo News report, Collins also declares that the county would have to fund money to pay for computers and provide for office space. This is not so as the $4.2 three-year grant provides for all associated service costs.

When asked why he should now object to a grant that was approved in 2007 by former County Executive Joel Giambra, the Erie County Legislature and was endorsed by the state-appointed control board, he answered that should the collocation program not be successful and further funded by the state, when the three year contract expires, the county would have to absorb the workers.

Not so, as past practices indicate when grant monies are allocated. This grant is provisional, meaning that more state funding for the collocation program will be based on its success.

Collins also indicates that he would like to use the funding to hire private or nonprofit agencies that target drug abuse, if he were to consider spending the grant money. This appears to be a veiled attempt to dismiss unionized ECMC county workers.

Collocation project deserves consideration because:

* It is state grant money allocated for a program found worthwhile by just about everyone. By not using this grant money for a worthwhile program, it could be lost to an endeavor of much less merit.

* Being such, it was proposed by the state and Erie County was chosen as one of two evaluation communities in the state because of the number of chemically dependent cases occurring in the county – 9,000 Child Protective Services (CPS) cases where half were related to alcohol and substance abuse.

* Unlike what was reported in the media, the program not only involves children as clients for substance abuse, but for the parents who have alcohol and substance abuse problems and abuse their children, either physically, mentally, sexually, etc.

* The program was already in place for two weeks when Collins pulled the plug. In that short time frame, a relationship formed between members of the CPS and ECMC Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services counselors where both parties came to understand the value of the program.

* ECMC staff was chosen as they have the largest and most experienced department in the county. If Collins’ intent is to not to see unionized workers get the job, his doing so to eliminate CPS and CASAC workers making in the mid-$30’s is also questionable as to being a sound decision.

* Research indicates that for every dollar spent on prevention, seven dollars are saved ($4.2 million X 7 = $29.4 potential for savings).

The Child Welfare-Chemical Dependency Collocation Program was conceived to address the pervasive and ongoing problem of chemical dependency implication in child welfare cases and to improve the safety, permanence and well being of children, youth and families involved in both the child welfare and chemical dependency systems.

The existence of chemical or alcohol dependency by parents greatly increases the risk of child abuse and neglect and its recurrence. The Collocation Program addresses such issues as well.

Certainly this could have been a feather in the cap of a county that is struggling with many socio-economic issues. The Collocation Program would significantly shorten the response time for treatment and prevention.

The current termination of the project only creates ill will with our State stakeholders.

For all the aforementioned reasons, Collins’ interference is not only questionable as to legality and motive, but to sound judgment.

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