Attorneys for District welfare applicants accused the D.C. Department of Human Resources yesterday of wrongly claiming it has complied with a federal court order to process requests within 45 days.
Neighborhood Legal Services program lawyers said DHR's claim, filed in a three-year-old suit before U.S. District Court Judge Aubrey E. Robinson, was a "misinterpretation" of it data and inaccurately portrayed the agency's ability to comply with the order.
Acting DHR director Albert P. Russo said he was "surprised" to learn of the charge. Russo said DHR welfare workers only last week gave him "full assurance that we are in full compliance" with the order.
Russo declared at an April 7 press conference that nearly 900 delayed applications had been processed. Last week he filed an affidavit proclaiming DHR in full compliance with the court order and federal law.
Robinson in February found Russo, Mayor Walter E. Washington and three other DHR officials in contempt of court for failing to reduce the huge backlog, but withheld penalties pending DHR's chosen deadline of May 2 for compliance.
Even as Russo declared the backlog removed at the April 7 news conference with the mayor, at least 63 applications were in violation of the 45-day rule, attorney Stephen G. Ryan said in response to Russo's affidavit yesterday.
In court papers filed yesterday, Ryan and NLSP lawyer Gerald Von Korff urged Robinson to issue a permanent order insuring "swift and certain punishment" including jail terms and fines for city officials andcompensatory damages to applicants for continued violations of the ruling.
DHR's most recent failing, according to the lawyers, is its "unwillingness" to include the 15 days it takes to issue and deliver a welfare check in the mandated 45-day period. Robinson's 1974 order said the 15 days must be included, they noted.
The lawyers also charged DHR has assigned about the same number of workers to handle welfare cases as were available when the large backlog developed.
The 45-day processing time is set by federal law, but without "sufficient coercive sanctions" by the court. DHR will continue to violate the law, NLSP attorney contended.
DHR was accused in the court papers of showing "frenetic activity" toward compliance only when severe court action was threatened. Meanwhile, welfare clients are treated with "callous indifference," the lawyers said. They named several applicants who thay say first sought public assistance in February, 1976, but were not processed until March, 1977, during DHR's hurried actions to comply with Robinson's court order and avoid contempt charges.