The best thing to happen to Blanche Felder last week was seeing her daughter off for her final semester of college.
The worst thing to happen to her was being notified a few days later that her daughter could not enroll in school because money from the D.C. State Grant Incentive Program, which had made a college education a reality in the first place, was no longer available to her.
Grant officials said Mrs. Felder's daughter, Telana, who is 20, had not completed the proper eligibility forms. Mrs. Felder said she had.
Like many such dispute between the District of Columbia government and the people who rely on its services, the verbal battles that Mrs. Felder waged with Mayor Walter E. Washington's office, grant officials who operate within the Department of Human Resources and the D.C. City Council, meant nothing for Telana.
She now waits, virtually stranded, at North Carolina A & T, in Greensboro, N. C., borrowing spare change and money for food from friends while her mother tires to raise the nearly $2,000 in tuition and expenses from church groups and neighbours.
Mrs. Felder says neighbors have so far nodded in embarrassment at her requests, for wealthy people do not live among them in the low and moderate-income Capital View Apartments, located at the corner of East Capitol Street and Southern Avenue SE, at the edge of the city.
"For (the government) to cop out on us like this, when my little girl is on the verge of graduation," Mrs. Felder said, shaking her head. "I have five children and Telana is the only who has been able to go to college and she had a heart condition at birth so Lord knows I never thought I'd see the day. It made me cry," she said, pausing to catch her breath.
In a telephone interview from North Carolina, Telana said she was "very depressed" and would have to leave school and try to find a job if the money did not arrive.
"It's really no fun eating tuna and crackers all the time," Telana said, sounding good natured.
She said it had taken all of three years just to get used to being the only woman majoring in electrical engineering because "men make fun of you and you always have to prove yourself. She said the challenge of school became worth-while when recruiters from the Phillips 66 Petroleum Company in Texas requested a job interview with her, which she said made her after-college prospects exciting.
To Eloise Turner, who runs the D. C. State Grant Incentive Program, Felder's woes were self inflicted, a matter that neither she nor anyone else could do anything about.
"They go to school on a gamble, thinking just because they applied for a loan that means they got it," Mrs. Turner said.
Turner admitted that inadequate staffing caused operational problems such as delays in sending out grant checks.
Five months after the school year began in September, 1978, for example, no checks had been issued to the 1,600 students who had applied for the grants.
According to annual HEW reviews of the great program, significant improvements are being made, and the program is operating acceptably.
"We have had our growing pains," Mrs Turner said, "but the kind of situations that the Felders are in are rare."
Mrs. Felder said her daughters's first year of college was financed through the D. C. Student Loan Program. When D. C. State Grant Incentive Program was started two years ago, Mrs. Felder said she applied for an received grants for two consecutive years afterwards.
"We were never told about being ineligible or anything about a deadline until my daughter tried to register for her classes," Mrs. Felder said. "At least they could have sent us a letter before my daughter went to school," she said.
Mrs. Felder was unable to apply for more money through the D. C. Student Loan Program because it was discontinued last year because of excessive defaults on loans.
Mrs. Turner said her office gets "complaints each year from about 10 to 15 students who get stranded without funds," she said.
As for Telana Felder, Mrs. Turner said, "For all practical purposes, she had the money. Although this is a first-come, first-served program, we give priority to continuing students, those who have received grants before. So long as they get their applications in on time."
Mrs. Turner said Telana's application arrived July 28, nearly a month after the stated deadline.
"We didn't know about any deadline," Mrs. Felder insisted. "Why would I have missed a deadline? I called the dean at my daughter's school, and he said he didn't know about a deadline."
Mrs. Turner said notices about the deadline were mailed, or slipped under doors and broadcasted over radio station WHUR as few days before deadline approached.
"I don't know where they (the Felder's) were," she said.
According to Turner, 2,500 applications were processed for the 1977-78 school year and 750 students received grants. She said the grant money - half of which comes from District of Columbia taxpayers and the other half from the federal government - totaled $873,194.
More than half of those who received grants came from families earning less than $6,000 and 28 came from families earning over $20,000 a year, Mrs. Turner said.
It's a terrible thing to do to us," said Mrs. Felder who works as a secretary at HEW.
"It's unfortunate," Mrs. Turner said, "But they were at fault."
"I was an honors students at McKinley High," Telana said, "but I never thought I'd get this far."