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County executives unite in opposition of federal "Family First" bill

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

They say a bill under consideration on Capitol Hill has good intentions, seeking to protect children in at-risk situations. But saying the proposed "Family First" bill is flawed and potentially very costly to county governments, county executives from both ends of the state, including Buffalo, are calling on New York's two senators to reject the measure.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who was appearing at the New York Association of Counties Fall Seminar in Niagara Falls on Tuesday, stood with Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and four other peers to reject the Family First Bill and urge Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to vote it down.

The bill is designed to help states that have not invested in child abuse preventive services as extensively as others, including New York. Poloncarz and Astorino say while they want to see legislation passed that protects children, the bill under consideration is an unfunded mandate that would effectively punish those states which have already spent millions of dollars on preventive services. 

In New York State, counties are required by law to provide foster care services, through a block grant funded with federal dollars.  Poloncarz and Astorino fear that federal dollars would be shifted away from New York to support other states that have not provided such programs to date.

"Unfortunately, the way the bill is drafted, New York State as well as California and Texas - because we've had these programs for some time - will be penalized by the lack of federal revenue that we truthfully are already eligible for today," Poloncarz said.

The projected cost to cover the Family First mandate could be as high as four percent of the current tax levy, according to the New York Association of Counties. Erie County, Poloncarz estimates, would stand to lose anywhere from eight to twelve million dollars annually if Family First is passed. Astorino suggests his county would lose closer to $15 million and would be forced to make up that funding through tax increases.

That's something Astorino doesn't want. 

"There are a lot of positives to this, but there are a lot of negatives including taking away adoption services and forcing counties to pay for the difference in what is a very inflexible and regimented system of compliance," Astorino said. "New bureaucratic compliance dictated by Washington D.C."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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