The government's Legal Services Corp. was asked yesterday to provide representatives of poor people to help in efforts to revise the welfare system.
Legal Services had suggested on Feb. 1 that Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. include welfare recipients and lawyers serving them on a 26-member panel studying welfare revisions. Califano was criticized yesterday because the panel has no blacks and no welfare recipients.
An HEW spokesman said Califano then asked Legal Services to suggest representatives and that the action was "expendited" by the criticism.
Califano, who had set up the group to advise him on changes he will propose to President Carter by May 1, left the organizational meeting after promising that all views would be considered.
He announced that he will personally conduct public hearings on March 10 to ensure that anyone who wants to speak will have the opportunity to offer suggestions.
After Califano left but before the meeting was over, members of the Philadelphia Welfare Rights Organization and several HEW employees in the audience protested that not one of the 27 members of the panel was black or on welfare.
Viola Sanders of the Philadelphia group, who said she got up at 3 a.m. to drive down for the meeting, demanded that "at least 50 per cent of the committee be current welfare recipients and their advocates."
"You cannot come up with a program," she said. "Only we can do that. We are professionals at being poor, at starving and suffering . . . We live like dogs."
Assistant HEW Secretary Henry Aaron, chairman of the panel, defended the makeup of the meeting, saying it was designed to represent federal agencies, Congress and state and local governments with an interest in administration of welfare programs.
"This is a governmental body," he said, "but we welcome and invite your participation in these meetings."
A number of other people from the audience spoke up in support of citizen participation on the panel and criticized its racial makeup.
Gene Bradford, who identified himself as an HEW employee, told Aaron that the representatives from state and local governments come from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Governors Conference and similar groups which he called "lobbying organizations with special interests."
"Those who spoke here [from the welfare rights group] have a right to sit on the panel," he said.
The only member of the committee from a minority group was Arabella Martinez, HEW's assistant secretary for human development, who told Aaron, "I believe there is a great deal of validity in what they have said. I am the only minority on this panel, and I feel kind of lonely."