There are similarities in how they handle applications and disburse public monies, which, too often, entail loss of clients' paperwork, rude or apathetic case workers, arbitrary (or incorrect decisions) about eligibility, and too-frequent re-certification (when all documentation is re-submitted).
- While working as temporary case manager for a private shelter provider in New York City, I received a long list of numbers for welfare agency heads and personnel who, presumably, could provide quick access to information about policies and procedures. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I'd get a mailbox too full to accept messages, no answer, or routed to voice mail. Rarely, if ever, did anyone return my calls.
- A pregnant mother of two hand-delivered an application, but later is informed that it's lost and she needs to re-file. Meanwhile, she's cut off from services.
- Another mother with a sick newborn missed an appointment because of a NYC snowstorm. The worker asks if she took her baby to a doctor. She says,"no" because the weather had been too bad. Nonetheless, she's told to provide medical documentation. As case manager, I offered to vouch that she had been at the shelter with her child on the day in question. Not good enough. Without a doctor's note, she was cut off from services.
- One NYC housing assistance program for homeless families (now defunct) required applicants to be on public assistance. One mother, a college graduate who worked, but who was in shelter because of domestic violence, balked at leaving her job and going on welfare. She was denied housing.
In addition to bureaucratic intransigence, social service offices generally are bereft of any decorative touches of warmth and send the message, "We don't think you're worth better."
Ironically, middle-class Americans, who oftentimes view welfare recipients as unwilling to work, uneducated, or opportunistic, eagerly accept government handouts for mortgage assistance and cash for "clunkers." They don't view themselves as taking advantage of the system but entitled to help.What a difference a recession makes.