Suffolk's top social services official said Monday that the agency no longer can comply with the county's prompt-payment law for nonprofit groups that deliver day care and housing services, and that the county risks significant penalties.

Commissioner Gregory Blass said that with the county's new restrictions on overtime, "I've come to conclude that we will not be able to comply with the prompt payment law for the foreseeable future."

He also urged lawmakers to enact a new measure to suspend the penalties -- which amount to 9 percent annually -- until the county's current fiscal crisis subsides.

The law requires vendors to be paid within 30 days. But Blass said in testimony before the Human Services Committee that he expected payment processing to take 45 days or more, "in the not too distant future."

There are 875 mainly small nonprofit groups and individuals receiving reimbursement for $82.8 million annually for day care, foster care, housing and other services for low-income residents.

Blass estimated that penalties could total as much as $50,000 in 2012 and 2013 combined.

Following Blass' testimony, the administration of County Executive Steve Bellone authorized $5,000 in overtime for the next two weeks. Blass estimates $90,000 in overtime will be required in 2012 to keep the department in compliance with the law.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the administration approved overtime "to stay current and not incur penalties" while the issues are reviewed.

Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), sponsor of the original prompt-payment legislation, said he would review options but is reluctant to lift penalties.

"When the government stops paying its bills promptly, it speaks to the character of the government," said Gregory, also chairman of the Human Services Committee.

Blass' warning comes as the department, which has a staff of 1,830, has nearly 200 vacancies and is facing 146 further layoffs in June without new funding. Blass also noted that welfare advocates have a contempt motion in federal court seeking a special master to force the county to speed up processing of swelling Medicaid and food stamp applications.

Legis. Lou D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) said the penalties are not working and that to impose them is "unfair to taxpayers." He suggested the social services department ask nonprofits to waive penalties.

However, Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said nonprofit groups have little cushion to operate and often need to borrow if payments are late. "Do you think banks are going to waive interest charges?" he asked.

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