Putnam Hands Off WIC Program

Legislature holds special meeting for vote

By Holly Crocco

The Putnam County Legislature discontinued its administration of a federal program for poor women and their children, opting for a nonprofit community agency to oversee it instead, during a special meeting called on July 24. The vote was 7-2, with Nancy Montgomery (D-Philipstown) and William Gouldman (R-Putnam Valley) voting “no.”

The county Health Department has been administering the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, for 15 years. The administration is partly funded through an annual state grant of about $437,000. In 2018, the county fronted an additional $120,000 to cover program costs, according to William Orr, the health department’s finance officer. He said the county could incur more than $100,000 in WIC expenses in 2019.

A five-year grant contract with the state is set to expire in 2020, but the Legislature voted to end the program Sept. 30 of this year. The program serves 1,100 to 1,200 residents annually, according to the county.

The WIC program will be taken over by Open Door Family Medical Centers, which operates a community health center in Brewster.

Montgomery said she opposed ending the contract early, and also was not happy that the Legislature called a special meeting for the vote, saying it “will leave the public with the impression that we have rushed or otherwise short-circuited public process in our decision-making.”

Legislature Chair Joseph Castellano (R-Brewster) said the meeting was necessary because two legislators will not be able to attend the regular monthly meeting scheduled for Aug. 6.

“It is such an important issue that all nine legislators should be here, and I’m thankful that all nine did show up,” he said.

Montgomery, however, accused her colleagues of calling the special meeting two weeks before the regular meeting because the state has already promised funding to Open Door, and there’s a timeline for them to receive it.

“I don’t believe that we’re holding this special meeting because two legislators can’t make it,” she said. “I believe we have an obligation to the state and to the clients — the WIC clients — and to get messages out to them in a timely manner, and I think that’s unfortunate.”

Montgomery also pointed out that one of the four full-time county employees losing a job is a one year away from fulfilling a 20-year tenure to retire with a full pension.

“We’re cheating an employee out of her retirement, which is unnecessary,” she said. “It’s a crummy way to treat our employees. Why can’t we fill out our contract? We have a year left. It would be a cleaner transition.”

Toni Addonizio (R-Kent) said she took offense to the implication that legislators “don’t care” about county employees.

“The loss of jobs is very important to me,” she said, noting that the Personnel Department is working to find jobs for displaced employees.

Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) added that county employees are very valued.

“The people I talk to are very thankful to have civil service jobs, benefits and live and work in Putnam County — which is a rarity,” she said. “This is a bedroom community and most people have to commute out.”

Nacerino added that Open Door can better serve WIC clients. “We are doing the right thing for the right reasons,” she said.

Amy Sayegh (R-Mahopac Falls) noted that the county’s client base for the WIC program has declined, and state funding is not covering all expenses.

“This will be going further and further down the hole, and we’re not serving the populations that we’re trying to serve,” she said.

Neal Sullivan (R-Mahopac) said the implication that the county rushed the decision was bogus. “I don’t think we’ve discussed an issue more since I’ve been a legislator,” he said.

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