I woke up this morning at 6 a.m., scraped together $1.50 (having to raid my 8-year-old son's piggy bank for the balance), and walked to the neighborhood High's for the Sunday Sun, primarily to check the want ads. I've been unemployed since February.
What first drew my attention, though, was Jackie Powder's front-page story in the Howard County Sun, (Sept. 22) "Social services workers straining under caseload." It nearly moved me to weep big buckets of uncontrolled tears for that poor overworked staff at the local Department of Social Services.
Poor, unappreciated Betty Eggleston, assistant Social Services director, and caseworker Cheryl Cogdell. Having to deal with all those nasty people who walk into the welfare office, as Eggleston was quoted, thinking, "I'm a taxpayer, I want it now." What an arrogant, ungrateful lot the unemployed, undernourished and homeless can be.
Well, I have a little news flash for Eggleston, Cogdell and their co-workers at Social Services. Far from arrogant, what most of us who wind up in that office are is terrified.
The landlord's already said "Myhands are tied, pay up or I file for eviction." The judge has already said, "Gee, my hands are tied; the landlord's within his legal rights to evict." BG & E has said, "Our hands are tied, your electricity goes off Friday." (Funny, how often the people whose hands are tied are the same ones who are holding the rope.)
So maybe by the time we show up at Social Services, we're not worrying about Cogdell and her other caseworkers. So, yeah, we clients "don't realize all that's involved in being understaffed."
Insensitive ol' clients. Maybe we're a bit more focused on our children's toys and clothing being piledin a heap on the curb, while the Howard County sheriffs carry out the rest of our furniture.
Maybe we've counted out the last quartersto put $2 worth of gas in the car, or ride the bus, to get to SocialServices that morning.
Maybe we're a little groggy and irritable from lack of food -- conserving what bit is left in the refrigerator so we can feed the kids -- and little sleep because the massive wavesof fear pound us at night.
We come there desperately seeking helpand information. What we usually get is long waits and stony stares.
The first time I applied for help from Social Services, I was told, after a five-hour wait for a 10-minute interview, that I was ineligible for any aid because I was making too much money: a whopping $860 a month from unemployment insurance. And yes, the caseworker was asrude and abrupt as it's possible to be.
When I phone this counselor several days later to ask if I was at least eligible for food stamps -- as she was supposed to be checking -- she told me that applications are "thrown away" after five days and I'd have to come in again to reapply.
When I said, "Why didn't you tell me that in the firstplace?", she snarled, "You don't talk to me like that. I'm not your son!" and slammed down the receiver.
Hey, bet she was just having a bad day, huh?
The only bright spot in all this is the attitude taken by County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray. After months of listening to pathetic laments of "our hands are tied" from a variety of sources, to me it's refreshing to finally see someone in authority who has the courage to "untie" his own hands. We need more leadership andfewer excuses.
I admit, I'm impatient with this whine of "we're understaffed." So are the police, the schools, volunteer groups such as FISH, the Salvation Army, the public library, the Community Action Council -- but each of these institutions, in their continued effectiveness, puts Social Services to shame.
If all those poor Social Services caseworkers can't handle their work properly, I have a suggestion for them: Quit. There are plenty of us who need jobs.
(Chris. Dickerson lives in Columbia.)