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Special master to oversee Nassau public assistance programs

A federal court judge has appointed a special master to oversee Nassau's food stamp, Medicaid and other public assistance programs following complaints from local social service advocates that the county repeatedly violated state and federal deadlines on processing aid requests.

Grace D. Moran, a Rockville Centre attorney, will work on a pro-bono basis with the Nassau Department of Social Service to create a plan to bring the county into compliance with the 30-day deadline to process food stamp requests and the 45-day deadline to process Medicaid applications, according to a court order issued July 29.

The order is part of an ongoing 2010 lawsuit filed by the Central Islip-based Empire Justice Center and Manhattan-based National Center for Economic Justice on behalf of residents who argued their applications were delayed.

Attorneys for the two legal advocacy groups cited county reports in their court petition showing that in some months during the period of March through September 2012, Nassau failed to notify up to 43 percent of food stamp applicants of their approval status by the 30-day federal deadline.

During the same period, processing of up to 37 percent of Medicaid applications was delayed past the 45-day deadline.

In a statement, Nassau Social Services Commissioner John E. Imhof wrote: "We truly welcome the court's appointment of a special master," but could not comment further because the case is still before the courts.

About 68,600 Nassau residents receive food stamps, and 182,000 residents are enrolled in Medicaid, according to figures provided by the state.

"We're dealing with the most needy people in the county," said Linda Hassberg, senior attorney for the Empire Justice Center. "For them to have to wait to get medical care, to get food, to be able to pay rent . . . is unfair. The time limits were imposed for a reason."

U.S. District Court Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein appointed Moran, former president of the Nassau County Bar Association, after the judge received recommendations from the county bar association. The judge's order states Moran must issue a preliminary report to the court by Nov. 4 outlining the county's progress in "formulating and implementing the correction action plan."

Reached by phone, Moran said she received official notification of her appointment last week and had not yet met with attorneys for the county and the advocacy groups to determine a course of action.

Democratic Nassau County executive candidates Thomas Suozzi and Adam Haber seized on the news of the court intervention to blast Republican County Executive Edward Mangano's handling of the department.

"It's gross mismanagement," Suozzi said. "In the case of social services, they cut all these employees in the face of rising caseloads, they cut employees that were federally funded, it doesn't makes sense.

In a statement Haber said, "These much needed services were afterthoughts to both Suozzi and Mangano."

"It's good to see attention directed toward social services, but we are lacking tangible progress," Haber said. "This ruling is more evidence of systemic mismanagement."

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin, while not mentioning Haber, responded by saying, "Suozzi has a short memory, and it's shameful and pathetic that he once again tries to shift the blame and avoids total responsibility for yet another problem that started during his administration."

In response, Suozzi said: "Mangano forgets that under my administration a federal judge never had to order an outside monitor to oversee social services, NIFA never took over county finances and Wall Street never downgraded our financial rating."

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