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Senators strongly back Cuomo's social services nominee

ALBANY - Democratic Assemb. Sam Roberts on Wednesday night received strong support in the State Senate as he seeks  confirmation as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's new commissioner of temporary and disability services.

Roberts of Syracuse was also prodded by a Senate Republican in Wednesday night's Finance Committee meeting to take a harder look at fraud in the social services system. A Democrat then challenged Roberts to be creative to find new ways to help the poor and working poor through one of the most demanding jobs in state government.

"What we find is we're spending and we don't see a result yet," said Sen. William Larkin (R-Cornwall-on-Hudson), who urged Roberts to tackle fraud. "Don't get me wrong, we want to help . . . (but) there are a lot of taxpayers out there footing the bill and we don't see a result. I think we better start looking to the taxpayers' dollars."

Roberts said he recognizes there is fraud in the system, and he will tackle it, but noted "there's not a whole lot that's going on."

Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Bronx) urged Roberts to be "more creative in terms of how we help families break the welfare cycle . . . so it doesn't come as punishment, but as an incentive."

Roberts agreed, and joked that he has a goal is be so successful that he works himself out of a job.

The upstate Democrat received strong support from the Senate's Republican majority members who are expected to confirm Roberts as early as Thursday.

"You are extremely well suited for this position," said Sen. Michael Nozzolio (R-Seneca Falls). Roberts' nomination was unanimously supported by the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

Roberts has served in the Assembly 20 years, worked in local government before that and once worked for the United Auto Workers union. He told senators he has a unique view for the job in that he once needed to rely on social services as a single parent after he lost his job through layoffs.

Commissioner Kristin Proud left the job in December along with several other top administrators from Cuomo's first term.



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