A change in the procedure for filing for welfare under the Aid for Families with Dependent Children program has drawn criticism from city social workers and legal aid attorneys, who say the new forms will generate confusion and additional paperwork.
Today is the filing deadline for about 6,000 of the 28,000 families in the District who receive money through the AFDC program. Families who were sent the six-page monthly forms about 10 days ago and have not returned them must mail them immediately and alert their caseworkers that their forms are on the way. Otherwise, they will not receive a January welfare check.
Other families participating in the AFDC program will receive the new forms in future months and will be phased gradually into the monthly reporting process, social workers said. This new reporting form, which was designed to check recipients' eligibility each month, is the result of efforts by the Reagan administration to reduce welfare payments and end fraud and abuse.
"Administratively, it's a nightmare," said June W. McCarron, chief of the District's Office of Social Services Planning and Development. McCarron is concerned that clients will fail to understand the importance of the form and will either not mail it back or fail to complete it properly and consequently will forfeit their monthly check. Recipients would then have to be recertified to get back on the rolls.
McCarron said she believes this is President Reagan's way of "cleaning the caseload." She urges clients who are confused about the form to call their caseworkers for help immediately.
Before the recent change in filing procedures, welfare clients were interviewed in person every six months by social workers who filled out the appropriate forms. This six-month review will continue in addition to the monthly reports.
Milford G. Lewis, program manager of the Capitol View Services Center in Southeast, looked at the new monthly form and shook his head. He believes that many people in his area read on a third-grade level and will not be able to understand it.
The new document asks for the names and social security numbers of all family members covered in the AFDC check; school attendance record of children in the family; description and proof of who works in the family and how much they earn, including miscellaneous windfall earnings like hitting the numbers game; babysitting expenses and personal property changes such as buying or selling a car.
"People have been calling in like crazy," said Brenda Gibbs-Moore, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services, which represents poor people, many of whom receive financial assistance. Despite the letters explaining the form to AFDC families that social agencies mailed before they sent the welfare forms, Gibbs-Moore said, her clients are "not understanding what's going on."
Gibbs-Moore is concerned that clients do not realize that if they fail to complete the form corrrectly, or do not turn it in, they will be dropped from the rolls with no opportunity to dispute that action. Once the form is mailed, corrections must be made in person, not over the phone, Gibbs-Moore added. She said her agency convinced the city to mail a warning notice on the 10th of each month to recipients who have not returned their forms.
Gibbs-Moore also feels the language in the report form is unclear, noting that she had never heard the term "real property" (referring to real estate: land or a house) until she was in law school. The time period is also confusing, she said. The December report form asks for income information from the month of November, and that information is used to compute the amount of the check to be received in January.
Social Services Commissioner Audrey Rowe has mixed views on the new reporting system. So far, she said early this week, "we have gotten back about 800 (of the first 6,000 forms that were mailed), and they are pretty well filled out correctly." But she adds that the new system has people in a "no win" situtation. If they report extra income, they lose money from their AFDC check, and if they don't report it and the social worker finds out, the client must pay the difference or be prosecuted, Rowe said. "I feel a sense of sadness for people who are really struggling," she said.
Alice Richey, acting deputy chief administrator of Income Maintenance for the city, is hoping that the nightmare everyone fears will not occur. The $100-million operating budget for AFDC in 1982 provided the city with funds to hire a private computer company in Bethesda to administer the new reporting procedures. Caseworkers will feed in the information from the forms and "a computer will calculate the grant," Richey explained. "Screeners and terminal operators are provided through the computer grant," explained Richey. Her department's 150 income maintenance workers will help process the forms, and no additional workers will be hired, she said.
This month 6,000 forms were mailed to AFDC recipients who work and those who have 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds in their households. More clients will be added to the mailing list each month until all of the District's 28,000 welfare recipients are included, Richey said.