LAST WEEK U.S. District Court Judge Aubrey Robinson chastized the D.C. Department of Human Resources for still not living up to a three-year-old court ruling requiring quick action on welfare applications. The judge ruled that DHR failed to take "effective administrative measures" - which means that the agency couldn't, or wouldn't, comply with the law.As an example, Judge Robinson pointed out that agency officials knew that too few people were working on the welfare program and that most of those people were poorly trained. But during the three years the case has been before the judge, neither DHR nor the mayor ever informed Congress, the D.C. City Council or Judge Robinson himself that court orders weren't being followed or that the agency was increasingly falling behind.
As a result, Judge Robinson ordered DHR to 1)give him monthly reports on welfare applications, 2)appoint people to check on how the agency handled those applications and 3)send checks to eligble welfare applicants within 45 days - as required by federal law. Moreover, the judge affirmed his earlier ruling that all "defendants" - Mayor Washington, former DHR director Joseph Yeldell, DHR director Albert Russo, and other agency officials - were in contempt of court for not following the court's two previous orders to get welfare checks out on time.
Periodically, DHR officials produce budget figures, computer print-outs, studies, reports or what-have you about their programs. But when it comes to knowing how well these programs are being run or whether people now in these programs are actually getting the help they require, one is hard pressed to find any useful information. Moreover, shortcomings are usually attributed to money shortages. But clearly these are not just money matters. Rather, they are matters of law and governmental will - and concern for the city's neediest residents. Welfare applications simply must be processed on time - within legal deadlines - and with, one would like to believe, some compassion for those who await assistance. A task force appointed by the City Council concluded that it could not suggest how to reorganize DHR because no one could tell them what the agency was really doing. That comes as no surprise to us - nor, we suspect, to Judge Robinson. Still, it shouldn't take a court order every time. DHR officials ought to be able to pinpoint their department's failings and reorganize tocorrect them. The sooner they do it, the better.