The Reagan administration dreams of people like this, but seldom do they meet a radical welfare reformer like Lupe Anguiano--charming, dynamic, Hispanic, feminist, Democrat, former nun, former organizer for Cesar Chavez, former education bureaucrat for LBJ--who declares, "Our program fits the Reagan philosophy . . .
"Nothing is given to you on a silver platter," she says. "You've got to work for it. That's what makes you healthy. That's what makes life worth living . . . The thing that I detest the most in the welfare system is it stifles the individual."
Anguiano and her volunteers have scoured the barrios and ghettos for a decade, screening and training thousands of welfare mothers in basic job skills, then jawboning local businesses and national corporations into hiring them. Anguiano says she has an 88 percent success rate, at a cost of $700 per individual. Her program operates in seven cities, placing 130 women a month in jobs, and is opening a branch for Harlem and the South Bronx next month.
Anguiano wants to go national, and reform the country's welfare system. The Reagan folks are naturally bananas about her.
"The Bushes have been very helpful," Anguiano said. Barbara Bush visited Tacoma, Wash., and San Antonio, two of the cities where branches of Anguiano's National Women's Employment and Education Inc. operate.
Last April President Reagan invited Anguiano to the White House along with 16 other individuals, two corporations and a labor organization, and awarded her a Volunteer Action Award for helping make America "a better and more generous land."
After the ceremony, Anguiano visited Margaret Heckler, Reagan's new secretary of Health and Human Services. "I told her, 'Mrs. Secretary, be relieved we're not here to ask for government money. We want you to . . . help us get the private sector involved in our program."
Yesterday Anguiano was the star at a breakfast at the Capitol for representatives of major corporations hosted by Republican senators Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) and Dave Durenberger (Minnesota), and today she was scheduled to meet with Reagan aides in the White House to discuss her plan to turn the welfare system upside down.
"I'm a Democrat but I voted for Reagan and I'm going to vote for him again . . . You know, the President is so great. He really is. No one can say no to him." This being the case, she said, she will ask that Reagan personally telephone corporate executives in New York to get them behind her program.
Corporate supporters already include Atlantic Richfield, IBM, Texas Instruments and several dozen other smaller companies.
One corporate representative at yesterday's breakfast, Cynthia Mayeda of Dayton Hudson Corp., was among those who stood up and praised Anguiano's work. "It's a wonderful project for us," she said. " . . . And it works, my friends."
Anguiano's reputation as a welfare reformer began in 1973 after she led a group of 100 welfare mothers in San Antonio in a "Let's Get Off Welfare Campaign." Half of them returned their checks and took up jobs that had been readied for them. The other half soon followed, and in six months several hundred Texas women were taken off the welfare rolls and placed in jobs.
"Ninety percent of welfare families are headed by women, and most of these are young, healthy, intelligent women who would select a job over welfare if they were offered one," Anguiano said. "The reason they are not working is the policy is not organized to provide a job and training."
Instead, she said, the system--despite welfare "reform" efforts by every administration for years--is centered on income maintenance.
"The greatest insult of the AFDC Aid for Families with Dependent Children, the nation's central welfare system policy is it calls the woman the caretaker. She's the caretaker for the state. Isn't that stupid? . . . The focus should be on providing the woman with a job and skills training, plus emergency assistance until she stabilizes herself in that job."
Anguiano cites case studies galore: the welfare mother who started out as a flagger on a construction site and now owns her own company . . . the ones who started as gardeners at $4 an hour outside a brewery and are now working inside at $9 an hour . . . the computer operator . . . the electrician . . .
Local colleges are used as training centers. Volunteers from the companies pledging jobs often run the classes. The students receive training (how to be a bank cashier) and general wisdom (the way you do it is start at the bottom and work your way up).
Anguiano, now in her fifties, grew up poor in the Southwest, the daughter of parents who fled the Mexican revolution. Her father worked on the railroad in Colorado, and in the summer the family went to California to pick crops. The mother's dream was to open a little store, and eventually she did. One of Anguiano's brothers now runs it--the La Palma Grocery Store in Saticoy, Calif.
When she was 20, Anguiano joined the Victory Knoll Missionary Sisters and remained a nun for 15 years, leaving when she felt her efforts for housing reform were hindered by her official church position. Later, she was married for a year, but "I just about went insane. It was the worst experience of my life. I was supposed to do this and do that, but I need to have freedom . . . I was supposed to be the housewife and I couldn't do it . . .
"I can't remember a day not working since I was a child, and I've never felt deprived," said Anguiano. "I've worked very hard and woken up in migrant camps and worked in the fields; it has given me the energy and strength to do what I'm doing now. The worst thing that can happen to an individual is to be dependent on public funding."
With everything she's got going for her, isn't Anguiano likely to find herself in the Reagan administration? Her reply:
"I don't think I would accept a position, because I think what I'm doing is very exciting. To make systems work better, you're better off working in a local area out of government."