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Interview with: Sharlee Friend
Date: January 21, 1975
Archive Number: OH 057
I: (00:08) Ms. Friend, I'd like you to tell us when you first joined the agency? How long you've been working for them?
SF: Since August, 1963.
I: And what positions have you held?
SF: I worked in the adult program to begin with, and then started in the AFDC program approximately a year and a half after I began with the agency. I have done both financial and social services.
I: And now you are with rehabilitation?
SF: Yes, the Texas Rehabilitation Joint Project. I preceded the project about 10 months.
I: What are your duties now?
SF: Social services to adjoined clients, helping them to be able to be trained and then possibly employed, hopefully off of welfare.
I: How are persons referred to you?
SF: Through other financial workers or social service workers in the agency.
I: And what are the requirements? What are the requirements to be accepted in rehabilitation?
SF: Well, in order to be accepted into the project, they have to meet Texas rehabilitation requirements. They meet our standards in that they are welfare recipients and any welfare recipient can be referred. But in order for Texas rehabilitation to accept them, they have to meet a disability standard, whether mental, physical, social, moral--whatever.
I: (01:45) Who determines the qualifications?
SF: The Texas Rehabilitation Commission. The counselors are the ones who determine whether or not the applicant can become a recipient of their services. They are tested psychologically and medically to see if they have a disability which would make them able to participate in the program.
I: What types of disability are usually the ones that they find can be--the persons can be trained?
SF: Anything. Any disability of any kind which would--can be turned—a psychological, physical, or mental disability which would still enable them to participate in a training program and then become employed.
I: What type of positions are they training for?
SF: Any kind of position. It doesn't make any difference. A person without education can be trained, anything from janitorial service to housekeeping in a hospital, to nurse’s aide, to LDN, to college graduates, to masters. It depends on a person's ability as to what kind of training they can get.
I: Are they given a series of tests?
SF: They're given psychological tests and medical tests to see what they're qualified to do and what they're physically able to do.
I: What is a typical applicant like? What's the usual type of person that you--?
SF: Well now, you're talking about a welfare recipient, because we handle only welfare recipients in this project, and what would a typical person be like? Go to any community and look at the people walking the streets, and that's a typical applicant. Yourself. Myself. Anyone—a human being. They look like every other human being.
I: What is the racial composition of your applicants? Are most of them white? Black? Chicano?
SF: Well, since they're all welfare recipients and most of the ones that come into this program in the joint project are AFDC mothers, they would be primarily black.
I: How successful is the agency in placing?
SF: We have two job placement people who work with the recipients once they are trained or want jobs. Even if there's no training and they want jobs, there are two job placement people who work with them. Depending on the person who is looking for the job, it would be like a college graduate. How successful are college graduates in getting a job? We have PhD.'s that have a club who can't find a job. So how can we say how successful the recipient is in finding a job? It depends on the community, the luck, the ability, and the country's status at the time that person is looking for work.
I: What is the record for finding jobs? Have there--had in the last, say, a year, of the percentage (unintelligible)?
SF: In the last year, we found very many jobs for people who have wanted work or had finished their training if they wanted work. We lost a lot of people who were working due to the bus strike. Unfortunately, people on welfare don't always have cars, and have no way to get to and from work, and not all jobs were held for them, so that there were many who lost their jobs and and now are unemployed, and they're not able to get unemployment compensation because they hadn't worked for a long enough period of time for the right people. So they're right back on welfare.
I: Have you found cooperation from the community in general, as far as making jobs available for these people?
SF: I think that the community--well, I think it's unfortunate the Department of Public Welfare doesn't have a good public relations person employed who can sell the welfare recipient to an employer. I think it would be like the prison system, trying to sell prisoners to an employer. They may very well be capable, but having a stigma of any kind attached--there's a problem. And I think it takes a good community relations person or public relations person to try to overcome that. I don't know how successful anybody is in overcoming somebody else's inhibitions.
I: (06:33) Do you have direct contact with the potential employers?
SF: No. That's not my job. One thing we were taught a long time ago is know your job duties and don't overstep the boundaries.
I: Does the department have--have they joined with any community leaders or other agencies in attempting to open up jobs for these people?
SF: Well, the thing that you're asking me now is mainly Texas Rehabilitation work, not my work. It has nothing to do with my job or job description duties. If you talk about leaders, then you'll have to go to the leaders to ask the questions. I can't speak for that.
I: Well, perhaps we should return then to your specific duties. Specifically, what is your contact with the recipient?
SF: Okay. At the present time, as a social service worker in the joint project, my job is to provide child care, whether through the neighborhood daycare centers or daycare homes, or through commercial centers for those people who want to get into training or employment and have no child care. Or we can pay a person to come into the client's home to take care of the children. These are called "in-home providers." As long as they sign an agreement with us and have a health card--and we do ask that they have this. We provide guidance to the recipient. We help with home management. We try to explain budgeting so they can live within their means and learn what it means to get a job and go to work and live without welfare. Welfare becomes a crutch after a while if you're depending on a monthly check and know exactly how little you're going to live with and then now, at this point, depending on food stamps and not paying as much for food as other people do who have to work--it takes a lot of budgeting. Because most people, when they start figuring out how much they're going to earn and then how much they're going to pay back to the government immediately, then how much they have to pay for food--not just food stamps--they don't want to get off welfare. When they figure that they have to pay their own medical bills or their own dental bills, they don't want to get off welfare. And I talk to an awful lot of working people who would prefer to go on welfare just to get the Medicaid and the dental program for the children. And we provide counseling. If we have a client who has had a problem, we have learned to listen, and I think most of us listen well. We're able to provide screening services for medical and dental services for the children. We run a referral service, because we do know of every agency in this town, which is able to provide everything for anybody, and when a client has a problem, we try to refer that problem to that particular agency, hoping to alleviate it so that the client can get into training or employment or both.
I: What is the most serious obstacle that you have to face in dealing with these people?
SF: (10:10) I think when a human being decides that the government is going to take care of them, that they're not going to have to work on their own for whatever meager amount of income they can get--that at that point, they become--well, perhaps, I don't want to say emotionally unstable, but certainly they have a hangup about how much they can do on their own, and just getting them to overcome their fear of standing on their own two feet becomes the biggest thing.
I: What approach do you use to overcome this problem? It seems to be quite a formidable problem.
SF: No, there's nothing that can't be overcome, as long as you have the courage to do it and the tomorrows to do it with. You simply ask questions. You talk together. You hold discussions. You have meetings. You meet on their level, not on your level. I think when you meet on their level, you have the answer even before you know the problem. Most people--if you come to their home, they feel differently about talking than they do in a commercial or office background. When they're ill and they're in the hospital and you come to visit them in the hospital, they open up, because they feel you're not there as a social worker. You're there as a friend, or you wouldn't be there. It isn't just a telephone call or a "Hi, how are you, and leave me alone." It's a case of "My time is your time."
I: Do you make home visits, too?
SF: Oh, yes. I make home visits, hospital visits, office visits--whatever's necessary. Mmn-hmm (affirmative).
I: You mentioned one interesting point you made--that meeting a person on their own level.
SF: Mmn-hmm (affirmative).
I: (12:16) Do you find that having recipients discuss their problems with you in a formal surrounding is a real significant hindrance--?
SF: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely without question. You sit in a cold room with the white walls and a desk between you, and that desk in itself is an obstacle. How do you reach and touch someone's hand over a desk? You can't reach each other. There is no way. A worker who sits behind a desk with a paper and pencil in hand and acts very businesslike loses the client, because then the client wants to be sure to answer very carefully exactly what they think you want to hear, and they don't tell you about their problems.
I: Are the clients usually responsive to this approach?
SF: They are to me.
I: That's all you can speak for—
SF: Yes, right—
I: You're the only person who—
SF: Right, I'm the only one I can talk for.
I: How many people do you have in your caseload?
SF: (13:28) I have 135 active and 135 potential, which is approximately 270 people, plus their families. When I say people, I'm talking about a recipient asking for Texas Rehabilitation Services who is a welfare recipient, but that recipient also has children.
I: Is this a normal case load?
SF: We don't carry "normal case loads." We have ongoing cases. We may not be active in all the cases at any one time, which is our salvation, and theirs, too. If a client calls for help and you're active with 270 cases, there's not much you can do. What I usually do is just before Christmas time, when most people are beginning to worry about what are they going to do for their kids--I immediately without their calling me send out a referral, so that they know where they can get clothing for their children, or toys, or extra food, or get packages. And they get that without asking me or calling me. And what I do is when I send them the referral, I ask them to call me and so invariably they will call, and say what is this, and where do I go and they're very appreciative. And I've done this throughout the years. I'm probably the only worker in the agency who does this, but this is my one contact with every person that's in my case load. So that at least once a year, I have direct contact, even if they don't want services all year long.
I: How often do you generally see them? How often are you required to see them?
SF: We're not required at all. It's only if the client asks for services that we see them. The client does not have to have a social service worker. The client requests social services.
I: And the number of contacts made after that—
SF: (15:16) Depends on the client and the client's needs.
I: Mmn-hmm (affirmative).
SF: Mmn-hmm (affirmative).
I: Do clients seem to kind of standing advantages of requesting this type of assistance?
SF: Not always, because many times, they're very much afraid that they'll say a little bit too much and it will get to the financial worker and that it'll hurt their money grant.
I: So there's a definite hindrance.
SF: Oh yeah, definitely. Definitely. They realize that we listen and we help and we understand, but we are obligated to the agency if we learn anything that they haven't told the financial worker. And of course, we do--we read the law to them. We try to help them understand what fraud means and that many of them do not understand what fraud means. We had a client who collected welfare while she was getting child support for five children, which didn't seem a whole lot, but those five children were not eligible for welfare. And yet, we trained her. We got her a job and she was still collecting her child support, and then suddenly, it was learned by the financial worker that this had happened. Although she and I had rapport, and we understood each other, we had helped her all the way through. She stopped calling the day the financial worker found out about that and she found out that she was not eligible for welfare, or the AFDC grant. So this creates a problem, yes, it does.
I: What is the most common request for assistance--for social service assistance?
SF: Okay. In this office, it would be child care, because that would be the biggest problem to anyone who wants to get into training, and that's children.
I: What are the resources available to resolve this problem? Are there--?
SF: (17:00) Oh, yeah. Well, we have commercial centers and in-home providers, as I said, and NCDCA program. We do have resources available to us so we can pay them directly. We contract with NCDCA and we contract with commercial centers, and we form agreements with in-home providers that we can pay. They're all paid through Austin.
I: So you don't deal directly then with medical--requests for medical assistance?
SF: Well, only that we can refer them. I mean, if I have a woman who needs to go to a hospital, can't find a doctor who accepts Medicaid, I'm going to find one for her. Or find two or three so that she can have a choice. I had a woman whose child had tonsillitis and she couldn't find a doctor who would take the tonsils out on Medicaid.
I: Mmn-hmm (affirmative).
SF: And so we searched the city until we found one. Not everybody wants to go to Ben Taub or be a charity patient when the state is paying so much for insurance and they've got a Medicaid card.
I: Are social service workers divided into areas? For example, there will be some that work with one particular problem, whereas yourself, you work in (unintelligible) for child care and so on?
SF: Well, in our project, our social service workers are teamed with the Texas Rehabilitation Counselor, and we work with the same clients that our particular counselor handles. And we handle all problems and all referrals for those clients. Other social service workers handle it differently.
I: You mentioned before that you were also into financial assistance, too.
SF: Mmn-hmm, mmn-hmm (affirmative).
I: How did you happen to be--how were you transferred to the social service area?
SF: Well, when I first started 11 years ago, we did everything.
I: Mmn-hmm (affirmative).
SF: And the only social services at that time was a contact with ultra forms. You know, we're always filling out forms, we're drowned in forms. Right now, we have a systems manager--a management system/data processing thing. We're drowned in forms. At that time, we had to have a contact with the client at least once every three months, and once a year we made a financial review. And now it's different. The review, I think, is done every three months by the financial worker. And there's also a social service worker. At that time, the one person did everything. We made all reviews and we had OTI's also. If we had an out of town inquiry, we went out and made an inquiry and filled out forms for other states. So we were doing all of that, but then our case load was supposed to be legally 50, although we would probably carry 90 or 110, and just not talk about the rest of those. From starting in the adult program it went into AFDC. I was strictly transferred into AFDC. I did not have a degree at that time. I had had 64 college hours, and without a degree, you were not supposed to go into AFDC, but because they had a lack of people, I was put into that. In the AFDC program, we did everything financial and social services for the family. They wanted to do a review on the new form after the courts--the Supreme Court said that the client could ahead and make a written eligibility form and they didn't have to have all this stuff about proving everything. We went through this ARS 6 form, and I was chosen as a validation worker for Harris County and this region. I was the only one in the region. And so for six to ten months, I did a study on the ARS 6, which was validating the form. Not trying to find out if the client was lying or the worker was lying or either one was not doing correctly, but actually, what was wrong with the form was it wasn't getting the truthful answers. Because what I did was try to find out the truth and then check it against the ARS 6 that was in the financial record. At the end of my 10 months doing this, I received a commendation from Austin and instead of the supervisor that was given to me, who was a lovely, lovely person in the adult program, they didn't want me following up with an AFDC supervisor--the department decided that the financial supervisor that was training the financial people wasn't doing an adequate job. They came down from Austin. I wrote them a three page letter chastising what was going on because I came up with all these different things. There was a 14 percent total ineligibility and ineligibility in many areas throughout the form. So they wanted to make him my supervisor, and I said there was no way in the world that I would work for a rose and pull out the thorns and get stuck. I wasn't about to work under that supervisor, so then I asked to be transferred back to social services, which is what happened, and they hired two other people to do the validation--one of which dropped out after two months and went into something else. The other one did finish the project and when she was completed and found all of the things that I had found, they started a fraud control unit and a quality control unit, which we now have. We have quite a few fraud control and quality control workers. I was asked to be a regional quality control worker, but I didn't want to go into that. I preferred helping people, not just finding out about them.
I: (22:59) That's the best reason I can think of.
SF: Mmn-hmm (affirmative).
I: You've been with the agency for some years now, and you've been able to observe the changes in policy that have occurred. Given the time that you’ve been with the agency, what is the most significant change that you've experienced?
SF: Okay, besides Supreme Court decisions, are you talking about--
SF: Are you including that?
I: If it significantly is reflected in the policy that the department—
SF: Well, the apartment just goes along with Supreme Court decisions. There's nothing else they can do. As far as local policy is concerned, of course, we have a new regional administrator, so that that particular phase of it is different. The way they hire people now or to fire people, I guess, or promote people is different than it used to be. At one time, if you drank beer and cohorted with the right people, you got promoted, and if you didn't then you just stayed where you were.
I: How is it different now?
SF : (24:10) Now they post job positions. You make an application. You are then screened by the person who is asking for that particular body to fill the position, and then whoever it is that's hired is--that's just whatever it is.
I: Okay. With regard to the clients, has there been any particular policy which has greatly assisted them?
SF: Well, policy, only insofar as the Supreme Court decisions are concerned. My feelings are my own thinking on what is right and what is wrong--would have no bearing on how it would help the client or hinder the client. I don't agree and I really don't agree with the Supreme Court saying that any man can live in the house and the children can see this and be with them, and yet know that they're welfare children and that the man is not supporting them but mom is sleeping with him. I don't go along with that. I don't go along with this kind of moral thinking. I don’t say that mom has to be a virgin or that she has to abstain because she's human, but I think she could do her cohorting somewhere else and not in front of the children. I don't think it has to be an open kind of thing. I think our very permissive society is not really as great as it seems to think it is.
I: Are the policies that exist now reasonable insofar as meeting the needs of the clients?
SF: It would seem to me that when a woman gets pregnant, and can immediately apply for welfare without even having the child, that it is helpful to her. And this is a Supreme Court decision. I think that if a woman can be with a man and have a child or children and yet not legally be married to him, he's not responsible for those children. I think to her it is helpful that she can get welfare. I guess the biggest concerns are that the children are being helped--that they're not relying on a man or getting a man to help them. I think this is helpful, yes.
I: What about the financial requirements? Needs?
SF: Where elegibility is concerned, if the mother of the children has the birth certificate to show that they are her children and not the neighbor's children or a sister's children, and can show to the worker that they are actually living in the home with her, there isn't too much more that she has to do. I think the fact that they are now actively seeking the man who fathered the children to try to have him support them is good. I think children need to know a man cares about them, too. I'm very glad that it's not a one-sided thing anymore.
(tape noise, then resumed interview)
I: (27:51) Mrs. Friend, on the date of our interview, you mentioned that you worked in the adult category and I'd like to turn our attention to that now. What were your duties working with the elderly?
SF: Okay. Making them eligible for welfare, making sure that they were 65 at the time that they were applying for welfare, and providing services if any were needed.
I: What were the most common services that you provided?
SF: I think that the elderly most often are lonely, and the best service that a worker could provide would be to simply go there and visit. Maybe even a call regularly, just to make sure that that person is alive and well. And many people don't even get a phone call. They don't even know what it's like to talk to somebody on the telephone. I think the outstanding case that I saw was a man who lived alone. He had a married daughter. He wasn't quite sure where she lived. This man had been a widower for many years. He must have been in his late 70s-early 80s. He lived alone in this little house that he owned, he paid taxes on--but it had no plumbing. The plumbing wasn't working. The sink was stopped up, the floor had rotted board, and one wall had broken away where the wind came through. This is where he lived. And I think the biggest service--I would say, to give that man, to help him with--was to really help himself, because I called his daughter. I found her, and I called her. And she came over, and she was able to get boards free of charge from the lumber yards and was able to get him a hammer and nails, and he started fixing up his house. And we were able to get a plumber who came out without charge and unstopped all his unsightly mess, and approximately eight months after I left the adult program, I happened to be in the neighborhood and stopped in to see him, and he was alive and well. The house was fixed, and he took the greatest pride in showing me the wall that he had rebuilt. I think just in helping sometimes the elderly to help themselves on their limited income is the biggest service you can do.
I: Have you had an opportunity to visit nursing homes in the area?
SF: You're talking about eleven years ago, now, ten years ago.
I: Yes, I am.
SF: Okay. Only if the particular client that I was working with was in the nursing home, because I did not work with nursing homes. Nursing home workers, although they worked with recipients, in reality were working with the nursing home operators and the operators would treat them to coffee and to lunch, and they would have socials and invite them to parties. How much they actually knew about what was going on with the recipients, I don't know. My job was simply to visit a particular recipient, see how that person was faring, and get out of the place.
I: What were the conditions then, that you noted in the nursing homes?
SF: (31:24) Well, I think that some are good and some aren't. It's just like everything. There were some that were clean, they had enough LDNs, RNs, nurse’s aides. Some would have nurse’s aides and no RN anywhere in sight. The nurse’s aides would be doing everything, which is not what they're supposed to be doing. I went into one home--somewhere on McGowan, I don't remember exactly--now this was a home, it wasn't an actual nursing home as such that it had nursing home patients, and I saw this one little lady strapped into what looked like a high chair with the food sitting on this little tray in front of her and no way for her to eat it. And I went back and complained to my supervisor who then took it up, because that was not my job. One thing we have always been told is to know your job duties and adhere.
I: Good. Did you get much cooperation from the relatives of these elderly clients?
SF: I think probably the funniest experience that I remember--if we're talking about relatives--was the Jewish population, because there are welfare recipients who are Jewish and white. And of course at that time, we were concerned with the eligibility factor--there was just so much they could have in the bank and so much that they had to live on--so much income, and they had to meet these standards like everybody else. I think the biggest problem that I had was this one--well, these were two sisters who were living together, one of whom was the mother of very prominent people in this town, and, in talking, she happened to tell me about this little check that came in four times a year. When I said, "What little check?" She said, "Oh, that little check from some bank." And of course, then, it became my obligation to find out what bank and what little check, only to find out that this was an interest-bearing check that she received, the principle of which stayed in the bank. She had nothing to do with that. And when I cut her off welfare, this very prominent family raised holy hell, because how could I take away her little check from the state? This was her income, and it was very difficult to explain to them the eligibility factor. They haven't talked to me since! And it does become very funny.
I: Did the relatives of these elderly clients give these people any attention, or were they--
SF: Well, yeah--
I: The reason I asked that, you mentioned before that the biggest problem that you saw was lonliness and all these people could not have been without relatives. There must have been some that were—
SF: Yeah. Relatives--relatives, okay, even today, you have the AFDC recipient who is a young mother, most of the time, with young children. She doesn't have time for her elderly mother. She has to raise her children. She's got her own problems. She has to live on a very small check. She hasn't got time to go visiting her mother. So then her mother may very well be an adult recipient under the SSI program and have no visitors at all. Many of them cannot read or write, so letters are nonexistent. What good is a letter if you can't read it--f you can't find somebody to read it to you? And if they can't afford a telephone, then there are no telephone calls. Many of the churches, unfortunately, believe in typing in income, and they're not going to give services to people who can't afford to give them anything. So yeah, lonliness is a big factor. Even cleaning up a house when they haven't got the strength to do it is a big factor.
I: Do most of these people live alone?
SF: Most elderly people live alone. Yes. And they live alone because they paid good money for a miserable house which is falling apart and they don't have the money for repairs. I had a client whose house was, well, I'm not going to use the word "stolen," but a very prominent judge ended up owning that house, because the siding was put on her house where it wasn't warranted. She didn't know what she was signing, she made an "x" and lost her little house. And there's no reason in the world for anybody to want it, but it was no longer hers. But they did give her a big privilege of living in that house until she died, and then she couldn't give it to heirs. It would go to this particular other person. But yes, most of the time, they do live alone.
I: (36:56) Comparing the services provided AFDC recipients and the services extended to help the elderly, do the elderly receive their fair share?
SF: I think the elderly receive much more than the AFDC recipients, because sympathy is with the elderly and not the with the AFDC recipient, just like the blind person will receive much more than his fair share, because sympathy is there. Where the emotion is, that's where the biggest help goes. It used to be that we would say the dog receives more than the child, and this was true, because the dog, which was attached to the blind person, received more welfare than the child did. So yes, it's where the sympathy is that the biggest help is. AFDC children are way down on the ladder. People are not thinking about the child as much as they are about the errant ways of the mother or the father. Unfortunately, we don't regulate crime, we regulate morals.
I: Do local church groups, for example, the Jewish Community Center of Family Services, or some Protestant agencies--do they in comparison to the services extended--social services extended by the agency welfare department--do they come close? Or do they contribute a significant amount of services?
SF: I think that the Methodists have an outstanding welfare program. Salvation Army is practically the best agency this town has. The Jewish community via family service does good in counseling. It doesn't do much else. They're great on talking, not much else. If a person really needs help, there's the Salvation Army, there's St. Matthew’s, the Methodist ministry. Many of the churches help. The temples have funds for helping. The Jewish people have a lot of pride and very seldom delve into those funds. When I was in the elderly program, the adult program, I serviced a couple who belonged to a temple, and they were living on practically nothing. Their home was absolutely meager, but they were paying to the building fund, because they didn't want the temple to know how poor they were. You don't find that too much in other religions. There are many black people who tie it to their church. They tie it, yet they have nothing to live on. Some churches are helpful, let's put it that way. Salvation Army stands high on my list. They help 99 percent of the time. They're much, much more welfare than--much more helpful than Harris County welfare. They don't give the client the ulcers that Harris County does on an emergency basis. And the overall best program is the state welfare program, because it does provide the money, the food stamps, and the referral services--social services.
I: Have you made direct referrals to Salvation Army in emergency situations?
SF: (40:40) Oh yes, definitely. Absolutely.
I: What kind of services have they provided your clients that you have referred?
SF: Okay. They have provided money to pay utility bills. If utility bills are being cut off, they'll pay the bills. If a client is being thrown out of a place to live, they will pay the rent. They'll keep that client from being thrown out. If a client has lost a check or had a check stolen and had it reported to the police, they will provide money to live on for the month. If food is needed, they will provide food or food vouchers. What else can you do? They are just excellent. They're the best agency this town has. When that Santa Clause rings his bell at Christmas time, everybody ought to give, not wait for him to give!
I: I'll have to remember that the next time I see one.
SF: Right. Right. Many agencies that you can call and ask for emergency help, but you don't get it. They do a lot of talking, and that's all. But Salvation Army comes across, and so does St. Matthew's and so do many of the Methodist ministries. I say "Methodist" because most of the time, my referrals have been there because I don't like to refer if I don't know if my client's going to get help. When I send a client somewhere, I want to be sure that that person is going to get help. I don't want them being shuffled from one person to another the way most people are. I just don't believe in card playing with people.
I: Mmn-hmm (affirmative). Now has the City welfare ever been of service to you?
SF: No. Definitely not.
I: Have you ever made referrals to—
SF: No. No. First of all, when you talk about City and County, they don't want to help people that are getting state help. When you say you're with the state, well, you have your own program, then why are you coming to them? I think the worst case that I ever had was a client whose father died and she wanted to get to the funeral. She wanted to get there with all her heart. And there was absolutely no agency at this time in this town that would provide money for her to go to the funeral. They simply said, "Let her learn to live with it." Well, that's easier said than done. But she never did get the money to go there. There was no agency that would provide money for her to go to a funeral, and it was needed.
I: Well I'd like to for a few moments turn our attention to the administration of the welfare system itself--welfare department itself--with regard to the workers. Now, my understanding is that the welfare department is not under any civil service system.
SF: (43:30) That's right, we're marital system.
I: How does that operate?
SF: Okay. Through Texas Employment, who sets up the testing, you take a merit test. And if you get a certain grade or pass a certain score, and your particular services are needed, you get hired. Promotions are now according to job positions that are posted by the Personnel Department, and the particular people who need a special person to work for them, they do the interview, and then you hear from them. They send you a letter telling you who was hired and why you weren't. They don't go into details about why you weren't, but tell you to apply again the next time a job is posted.
I: Is it an effective system?
SF: Well, if you get hired, it's effective, and if no, it's not!
I: Do workers have the right to appeal these decisions?
SF: Oh, yes. Yes. You do have the right to appeal, but there's always this feeling that if you rock the boat, you're going to rock your own boat, so most people don't.
I: Were there many workers or supervisors dismissed?
SF: Well, there was a great big shuffle a year ago, when a lot of social service people were taken out of the jobs they had and put into other jobs, if they wanted it, or they were given the opportunity to leave the agency because there was no money available. We had a big thing about Planned Parenthood where we had two units of Planned Parenthood, where we would talk to the clients about their going to Planned Parenthood and using their services and etc. They were closed down. We no longer have Planned Parenthood units, so all of those units were incorporated into other things--mainly child welfare. Child welfare has grown tremendously. I mean, now they are just placing bodies in jobs. It's hard to get a promotion with the agency if you don't know the right people. Even with all these postings.
I: A great deal of patronage in the system?
SF: (45:58) Yeah--yes. They try not to, but there definitely is. There are favorites and you can post a job and have a dozen applicants, and if there's one you favor, what difference is it going to make, even if you interview a dozen applicants? That one person you favor is going to get the job. That holds true everywhere, and there's no way in the world that you can prove favoritism or prove non-equality. There's no way to do it. There just is no way. Number one, if you're working for the agency, you're not going to lose your job by creating a great big hullaballoo. Because one thing about the agency is that you keep the kind of nondescript character--pardon.
I: Are there certain groups of people employed in the department who are discriminated against in promotions--for example, women?
SF: That's difficult to answer, because we do have women supervisors. We do have women program directors and regional directors, so that's difficult to answer. It really is difficult to answer. How can you prove discrimination when you can show a woman in a particular job, there's no way to prove discrimination. Really not. Uh-uh (negative). We certainly don't have too many men secretaries, but I would imagine that there weren't too many men who applied for the job. Besides which, our secretaries are paid so little that they might as well go somewhere else to work. I think the funniest experience that I've had in the three and a half years that I've been with Texas Rehab is that whenever we have a good secretary, they go to work for Texas Rehab and leave Welfare because the pay there is so much better that Texas Rehab counselors who do work equivalent to what we do earn at least $300 more a month than we do. So, you know, how do you prove discrimination? I don't know. I don't know. I really don't. Maybe there are jobs that people apply for, whether they're men or women--and how can you say "You should have hired a woman" if a man applies? Or the other way around.
I: Are there career opportunities for new workers coming into the agency.
SF: Okay. Career opportunities for new workers, yes. For older workers, no. Because the agency has its policy of reading applications from people that are not with the agency and thinking that their experiences are more varied and better because they've had experience outside of the agency. So they will invariably get the better jobs, and not the people working for the agency.
I: Mmn-hmm (affirmative).
SF: Older workers do not have as good a chance, no. Young workers, yes. Young black female workers, yes. Because the agency wants to show its impartiality and this is how you show it.
(Tape cut and then restarted)
SF: (49:23) Okay, when I first started with the agency, there were many people who were being promoted who did not have degrees and were being allowed to go to school during working hours by working on Saturdays and alternative time or working at night or working through their lunch hour. And they could pick up their school hours and get a degree. When I asked for it, they said no. My supervisor refused to give me permission to do this, so I continued going to school at night until last May, when I got my degree. And I didn't apply for any other jobs until that time, so whatever job I was put into, I did the best to my ability and got commendations and went right on being a worker. Right after I got my degree, though, I started applying for jobs, and that was when I really felt the kind of discrimination that is hard to put your finger on, but you know it's there. I went to a man, a program director--I'm not going to give the names, okay--who got my application and was asking me questions, and one of his first questions was "You've been with the agency a long time. I guess you are a career-minded person." I didn't say to him, "How long do you have to work before you show that you're career-minded?" But anyway, the person that was hired for that particular job was a young female with young children, so of course, you feel yourself that since you don't have young children, how can you plead for sympathy, "I need a job, so give it to me." Alright? I applied for an Equal Opportunity job, and a young black female got that job. And yet, I felt that I was very well qualified for that, but didn't get it. I applied for a child welfare supervisor's job, and I thought that was hilarious, because that program director wanted to talk about my Jewishness, ask me if I spoke Yiddish, was very impressed when I said I did, said he didn't know too many people who spoke Yiddish, and I asked him how many Jewish people he knew, anyway, which might not have been the right question. And then he asked me about a particular part of child welfare--how much did I know child welfare, because I never worked in child welfare, but I have worked for the agency. I've had child welfare Services courses, graduated from Sam Houston in Social Rehabilitation and Sociology. There must be something I've learned. He didn't ask me about any of these things. He asked me about my five grown children. And his statement was, well, "You have shown your ability in that you have five grown children who are very good children." And I wondered how the heck he knew that they were good, since he didn't even know my children. But he'd talk about who they were or what they were, or what they were doing, but the only thing he knew was that on my application I had written “I have five grown children.” So maybe I'm a little bitter about applying for jobs within the agency. The last job that I applied for--well, one of them--was in the education department of the agency, and this something I've done on my own. I have worked with the University of Houston teachers. I have helped some of their students. I have worked with Judas Gordon there, in the Black Studies program, and I told this to the department--to the lady who was doing the interview. Somebody else got the job, though, I didn't. They don't give you a reason. Simply that “We thank you for applying and we have hired so-and-so, whose qualifications better meet the need.” The last job that I applied for was in the WIN program and I don't have experience in WIN and the person who was promoted is an experienced WIN worker. The only ray of hope was that the last sentence said "We are going to have more openings in this particular field. Please reapply." So at least there's hope. And since all I do is give my clients hope, I live with hope, also.
I: (53:40) There has been talk in the past of federalizing the whole welfare system. How do you feel about that? Do you think you'd have more opportunities career-wise under a federal system?
SF: The federal workers that I have met in the past are usually very nondescript, inhibited people who know to sit at the desk between eight to five hours, with lunch 12 to one, and very seldom are free to use their own abilities--to further anything outside of that eight to five job. I don’t really know whether a government job, with all the problems the government has had can prove any better. I don't know. And fortunately, our state hasn’t been involved in a Watergate, so I can't tell. You know, if I were a young lawyer, I'd be afraid to go to work for the government, really--or the federal government. I think some of our worst problems were in the law field by young lawyers, and I would be afraid. I don't really know if the federal government can do anything better than the state, because it's a very general kind of a system. I mean, you are told what to do. You have a job duty--well, you have that in the state also. You're given a pen and a piece of paper and so you write. And you write according to directive and according to your job duty, and you never step on a toe. Well, if you can't afford to step on a toe, then you can't outdo yourself. You can't do more than your job calls for. Whether it's state, or federal, or anything--you can't do more than your job calls for, you're tied in a knot--that's it. What the federal government would do with the--well, let me put it this way--what have they done with SSI? I had a client whose granddaughter called me, and I had had this particular little old lady eleven years ago, was my client. So she was 65 or 66 at that time, and she's 11 years older now. This granddaughter called me. She had found my card in her grandmother's purse--I hadn't been her worker in all these years--and she said that her grandmother said that Mrs. Friend will know what to do if nobody else knows what to do, because she had a problem. Okay--the state is supposed to be providing services to the elderly who receive SSI, but the state was not sending out a worker. They simply said, "You'll call, you tell the problem, and if they can't refer you, it’s just too bad," because it's a referral service, and that's the job duty--referral service. So she had nobody to relate to and she wanted to relate more than anything else. And I was able to tell her what to do and where to go and she said, "I knew Mrs. Friend would know it." I said, "It's not that, honey, I've been with the agency a long time, so I know outside sources." Whereas, many of the young people who come in don’t know this. They don't have the experience. Okay, so what are they doing? You call SSI and you say you want to make an application. They tell you to come in. If you can't come in because you're too old or crippled or have no transportation, then you have to wait until their worker calls you back and makes and appointment to come and talk with you or to send you out--even to mail you an application! They have to make an appointment to mail you an application! This may take six weeks or six months, and that old person may be dead. You know? Okay, that's the federal government. With the state, you do not have that. You just never have had--even when our case load was sky high and we were doing everything--we still saw that person-- regardless. That person did not have to come in. If that person said, "I'm in a wheelchair and I can't get about," we didn't say, "Find transportation or get somebody to come in who knows all the answers." We got out there. So I don't know about the federal government--I really don't. I think sometimes you can become too institutionalized and then the whole personal thing goes down the drain and we are dealing with people.
I: (58:00) I noticed that our interview has lasted a bit longer than I had stated it would, so perhaps we could--unless you have some other statement you'd like to add at this time--we'll just conclude it.
SF: Well, I don't know what good all of this is going to do, and I like to ventilate because I give my clients a chance to ventilate--and this, to me, is nothing you'd talk about, something that I dearly believe in--and if the only thing that comes out of this is more service to people and helping humanity, then I'm satisfied.
I: I believe you have made some interesting points which should prove useful. On behalf of the Houston Metropolitan Archives and Research Center, I want to thank you for your participation.