Asking For It

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In order to get the feds to look into the city’s welfare agency last winter, lots of welfare recipients (and lots of advocates) protested repeatedly that it wasn’t playing by the rules, turning away desperate people who needed emergency cash or food stamps. After the federal investigation–and a lawsuit from Legal Aid–the administration has promised to obey the law by helping those who need aid immediately.

The Urban Justice Center plans to keep them honest. The organization has marshaled a few dozen interviewers to conduct survey blitzes outside the welfare agency’s intake offices. On a few April days, they plan to poll people as they leave the offices to find out whether they got the help they needed right away, or if they were told to come back tomorrow.

“The city has allegedly made adjustments in response to the lawsuit: new application forms and new procedures for dealing with emergencies,” explains Heidi Dorow, the director of the organizing project. “We want to see what’s happening.” Dorow hopes the project will generate some real ammunition–hard data on the number of people who are getting turned away from welfare, Food Stamps and Medicaid. Says Dorow: “The city’s not interested in tracking, so it’s left to those of us who want to make a positive impact on policy to do that.”

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