Welfare workers' complaints match those of clients Paperwork, bad attitudes top the list

August 25, 1993|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

More than 400 people showed up yesterday for the state's second public hearing on welfare reform, where they complained once again about inadequate cash assistance, overwhelming paperwork and the bad manners of the people they deal with every day.

But unlike the Aug. 4 hearing on Maryland's proposed overhaul of public assistance, these were workers, not clients, testifying before the Governor's Commission on Welfare Reform. Their complaints were remarkably similar to those heard earlier, although they came from the other side of the desk.

Paperwork -- which can take up to an hour for a typical welfare family -- was singled out as one of the most pervasive problems.

But workers also spoke about poor morale, inconsistent regulations, the prevalence of fraud and clients' attitudes.

Terri Jackson, a worker from Somerset County, seemed to speak for many of those in the Langsdale Auditorium at the University of Baltimore when she noted the contradictions in a system that, in her view, "subsidizes mothers to stay out of the work force, while I'm a mother in the work force.

"Clients are too idle while on assistance, which makes the transfer from welfare to work too difficult," Ms. Jackson said, to thunderous applause.

Teresa Johnson approached the hearing as if it were open mike night at a comedy club, entertaining the commission members with her droll accounts of life as a worker in Worcester County.

"I have major mind mush," she lamented at one point, reeling off the long list of acronyms commonly used in Maryland's welfare system. "I like to think I do a darn good job, but this is impossible."

Ms. Johnson was scornful of the state's new Primary Prevention Initiative (PPI), which she preferred to call a "Particularly Painful Idea." Under the program, one of Maryland's first steps in reform, clients lose money if they fail to make sure their children get medical checkups and attend school.

The new program also requires workers to discuss family planning with the clients, which takes the form of passing along a pamphlet. Only 30 seconds is budgeted for that portion of the interview, Ms. Johnson said, adding: "Have you ever tried to talk about family planning with a virtual stranger in just 30 seconds?"

Other comments and complaints heard repeatedly at the hearing included:

* Salary. Income maintenance workers -- those who process welfare cases -- make anywhere from $16,000 to $23,500, according to the workers. Like other state employees, they also endured a wage freeze. Even the clients got a 2 percent "raise," one worker pointed out, although she neglected to mention that the clients had taken a cut before that.

* Working conditions. Employees said they could endure the less-than-luxurious offices and lack of parking, but begged to be treated like adults. One Dorchester County worker likened the atmosphere to "Hitler's boot camp."

* The hostility some clients harbor toward their workers, failing to recognize that they don't make the rules.

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