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Dinolfo talks up county spending on children and families


County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo wants you to know the county would spend $560 million on children and families under the $1.2 billion budget she is proposing for next year.

The $560 million would fund public assistance programs, child care subsidies for working parents, the county’s Child Protective Services, the Early Intervention program, and the pre-kindergarten special education program.

“What a wise investment that is,” Dinolfo said in breaking down a portion of her 2020 budget proposal on Tuesday. “There’s nothing more important than our children and our families.”

Facts temper that talking point.

Most of the $560 million would be spent on programs required by state or federal law. Half of that funding would come from state and federal grants, as it typically does.

In 2019, for instance, state and federal grants offset $280 million of the $540 million the county allocated for human services. The county is also partially reimbursed for the Early Intervention and pre-kindergarten special education programs, which are accounted for in a different section of the budget.

Child day care subsidies, which have been a high-profile issue in the community, are another example.

Dinfolo announced she would set aside $48.4 million for child day care subsidies, an amount she cast as the county’s “largest ever investment in affordable child care.” What she didn’t say is that most of that money for those subsidies comes from a state block grant.

Right now, it’s not clear whether the county is pitching in more or whether the state grant increased. Perhaps the budgeted figure is going up because both the county and state are putting more money into it.

Those details should surface Thursday, when the entire proposed budget is slated to be made public.

In the meantime, it’s election season, and it is possible that Dinolfo will use the “largest ever investment” refrain in her campaign talking points. She is scheduled to debate her Democratic opponent, County Clerk Adam Bello, at 7 p.m. Wednesday on WHEC channel 10.

On Tuesday, Dinolfo teased some new initiatives that she wants to fund in 2020. They include:
  • Funding to help the Center for Youth expand its emergency child care program. The center operates two drop-in locations, one on Rosewood Terrace and another on Genesee Park Boulevard, that would be open all hours, every day. It would get $200,000 under the budget.
  • Funding for the equivalent of six additional service coordinator positions for child Early Intervention services. Service coordination is just one end of the troubled state program, which provides crucial services to children up to two years old who have developmental delays or disabilities. It’s the part the county can control. The state sets reimbursement rates for service providers, and those rates have historically been so low as to create a lot of turnover.
  • The launch of CarePortal, a software program that connects Department of Human Services caseworkers to faith communities offering assistance to people in need. The caseworkers can request help with things such as new winter coats or car repairs, and churches can respond.
During her presentation, Dinolfo also provided a brief update on her plan to address caseloads, vacancies, and staff retention in the county’s Child Protective Services. Since that effort began in 2017, the division has 21 more caseworkers and 14 more caseworker aides, Dinolfo said. A new class of 31 caseworkers will begin training in mid-November, she said.

The number of open CPS cases has dropped by 32 percent and average caseloads are down 27 percent, Dinolfo said.

The Federation of Social Workers, the union representing CPS caseworkers, said in a September statement that “caseload sizes are still substantially higher than what experts in the field consider to be manageable.” The union also said that many staff vacancies still exist.

In a statement to media, Bello dismissed Dinolfo’s presentation as “more of the same,” and said that families still have issues getting daycare assistance or face waitlists for early intervention services.

“Cheryl Dinolfo has had four years to work on these issues, and she has failed our community,” Bello said. “It’s going to take more than empty promises to fix these problems. It’s time for new ideas, new energy, and new leadership.”