April 12, 2000. A story by Jamie D. Gilkey in the Troy Record.

In the midst of efforts to reach a final deal on the state budget, opposition grew Tuesday to a proposal that would use more than $100 million originally intended to aid poor families to supplement the wages of health care workers.

Among the new critics of the plan is the New York State Catholic Conference, which The Record has learned sent a letter to all state legislators opposing the state Senate backed proposal.

“The Bishops of New York state support genuine welfare reform that strengthens families, encourages productive work and protects vulnerable children — born and unborn,” said John Kerry, the executive director of the group.

“We believe that government must be careful not to use reform merely as a means of reducing aid,” Kerry said.

The open opposition of the Catholic Conference, which represents church leaders from throughout the state, is not the only front on which critics are challenging what they have labeled a “raid” on surplus funds in the state’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

As part of an increasingly intense lobbying campaign on the issue, the Fiscal Policy Institute distributed a letter from the chair of a congressional committee criticizing the use of welfare money for purposes other supporting low income families.

“In short, those remaining on the rolls need more services and more assistance to enter employment and succeed than those who have been placed thus far,” said Representative Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), the chair of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources.

“States should be doing everything possible to be certain these more disadvantaged parents get the help they need to achieve independence,” Johnson said.

The Senate initially proposed the use of $165 million in funds from the more than $1.66 billion surplus that was expected to accumulate in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program by years end.

First reported in Monday’s edition of The Record, that proposal has been reduced to $109 million item, according to sources familiar with it. The money would go to those who work for non-profit health care agencies in the form of signing and longevity bonuses.

Many health care workers have not seen a raise in years and industry officials say that the average starting salary is currently just $16,300.

The budget conference committee that was established to address the state’s mental hygiene needs has already approved a 1.5 percent raise for mental health workers employed by non-profit agencies. That leaves those workers making a starting salary of just $16,544.50 and omits any raises for other health care staff.

Often identified as being more supportive of the state’s poor families, the Assembly has offered few comments on the Senate’s plan.

“The Assembly is advocating for COLA’s for health and human service workers,” said Paul Webster, a spokesman for the Assembly. “In addition, we recognize the need for the training and retaining of these workers.”

“TANF (money) is a possible avenue to achieve these goals,” Webster said.

The state Division of the Budget was also cautious about the proposal. “We’ll be looking at the specifics of TANF proposals to see that they fit within TANF guidelines and within the context of an overall balanced budget,” said DOB spokesman Joseph Conway.