The Erie County Department of Social Services (ECDSS) is taking measures in an attempt to keep both staff and clients healthy and safe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. These steps have been developed in discussion with the New York State Offices of Child and Family Services and Temporary and Disability Services and the following Erie County departments: personnel, labor relations, health, public works, and the county’s purchasing division.
Following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and the Erie County Department of Health related to social distancing, ECDSS will be taking the following steps:
•Nonessential travel by ECDSS employees is cancelled;
•Attendance at meetings outside of our organization by ECDSS employees is prohibited;
•Meetings involving non-ECDSS employees on ECDSS premises are cancelled;
•Events in the community sponsored by ECDSS are cancelled.
•ECDSS will employ alternate meeting methods such as telephone conferencing and virtual/online meetings. Meetings will be rescheduled and normal business practices restored as soon as advisable.
•Cleaning staff at all ECDSS locations (the Rath Building, 290 Main St., 460 Main St., 43 Court St., 810 East Ferry St., 1 Niagara Square, Appletree Business Park) are cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and spraying disinfectant nightly on high touch surfaces. In addition, ECDSS staff are cleaning and disinfecting communal areas, in addition to wiping down personal work areas.
•Effective Tuesday, March 17, family visits to the Youth Detention Center, at 810 E. Ferry St., have been suspended until further notice.
A press release stated, “While it is understood how important personal visits are to our families and youth, the primary responsibility is to keep all the youth in the county’s care safe, and county officials believe this is an essential step toward doing so. The youth division will be facilitating more frequent telephone calls between parents and children and will be sharing an updated family phone call schedule with parents. The department is committed to reinstituting in-person visits as soon as it is believed to be safe to do so.
•As of Monday, March 16, all client appointments at ECDSS for non-emergency purposes have been suspended. Clients will be called to inform them of the new restrictions as in-person assistance in offices will be used for those with emergency needs such as homelessness, eviction or disconnected utilities. Members of the public are encouraged to submit applications for services by mail or electronically for SNAP and HEAP assistance at www.mybenefits.ny.gov. Applications for certification or recertification of services can be dropped off at the ECDSS offices or mailed to the Erie County Department of Social Services, P.O. Box 120, Buffalo, NY 14201-9903.
Applicants are asked to include a working telephone number with their application for interview purposes. During this time, no negative actions will be taken as a result of cancelled or missed appointments. Clients will eventually be contacted to complete interviews by telephone or reschedule once it is deemed safe to conduct in-person certifications and recertifications.
OTDA and ECDSS have made the following additional procedural changes in light of COVID-19 concerns:
•The in-person interview requirement is waived for temporary assistance through April 11 for certifications and is waived through May 15 for recertifications.
•The requirement that clients come in person to have a photograph taken for their benefit card is waived through April 11.
•Employment requirements related to TA and SNAP cases will be waived effective Wednesday, March 18.
•Fair hearings will be conducted via telephone conference.
The press release added, “In the interest of avoiding virus transmission, we ask that all business with ECDSS be conducted remotely, if at all possible. ECDSS will be updating their website, Facebook account and Twitter account with email addresses and phone numbers for the many units within the department to facilitate remote access.”
For more information about the Erie County Department of Social Services, visit www.erie.gov/socialservices/ or call 716-858-8000.