Nov 15, 2006

Back to the welfare office

Reluctantly, I went back to the welfare office (Family Independence Agency, soon to be renamed the Department of Human Services) to get proof that I'm not suspected of child abuse. (See my past few posts for the whole story.)

It was less crowded, so the wait was shorter this time. While I waited, the clerk on one side of the counter was in discussion with two women and a social worker on my side of the counter. One of the women had come in to get her food stamps, but was told her case was closed and she wasn't getting anything. That's why a social worker had been summoned. There was a bunch of discussion about why you couldn't get food stamps with a closed case, and why the case's social worker couldn't be contacted, but the woman said she'd been told she could get them. (I'm guessing at some of this, having arrived in the middle of it.)

There was some unproductive back-and-forth, until the clerk - who had a computer terminal, while the social worker did not - volunteered that there were really two different case numbers for the woman. Apparently this was pretty unusual. It seemed that the records of the second case number revealed that the woman's case had been transferred to the very same case worker who was telling her she couldn't get benefits.

The woman was told she could get the food stamps if she came back the next day. It seemed the other woman couldn't be helped either. She wisely asked the clerk who her social worker of record was.

Some of this, of course, was going on as the same clerk was looking through a stack of envelopes looking for mine, and naturally she forgot my name at least once and had to start her search over again.

There was also a piece of paper taped on the counter where I waited that said to be sure to allow 2 to 3 hours to submit an application for benefits. I didn't notice the sign anywhere else, so it seems like you might have to wait in line to get the application, then have to come back because you didn't have that much time to stay there.

Why does this system assume you can just come back day after day to get what you need? That means you need a car. It means that you have to find a babysitter, or bring your kids with you. It means more time out of your life you might have needed to study, or do your grocery shopping, or cook or clean. Or maybe look for a job.

Luckily for me, I'm done with the system - but our taxes are going to continue paying for waste. In a sense, as taxpayers, we're the customers looking for value as much as the clients are. We want our fellow citizens to be protected from some of the consequences of being without funds, and we're paying too much. The clients are paying too - with their time, their self-respect, and the taxes they paid in the past and will pay in the future.

Iowa is tackling the problem. I've e-mailed a person who reported on improvements in their DHS system, and hope to hear how things can work better.

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