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Since welfare reform began, New York City’s welfare recipients have reported constant problems with the local welfare centers, ranging from surly caseworkers to badly botched paperwork. Now, at one local welfare office, Job Center 62 in downtown Brooklyn (also called the Clinton center) a coalition of 20 welfare clients is getting organized–and has already begun to see some results.

A group of clients calling itself the Community Campaign for Respect have started a petition to demand the city welfare agency recognize a peer-elected recipients’ committee, which could bring persistent problems–like the lack of translators, or chronically late payments for child care–to the attention of the welfare center’s administration. So far, more than 950 of the center’s recipients have signed the petition.

The campaign is an attempt to address some of the bureaucratic snags that plague this center. Leslie Monroy, a client at Clinton who is helping organize CCR, said that although she brought her caseworker a letter confirming that she was pregnant in February 1999, the caseworker still hasn’t increased her budget to include a mandatory pregnancy allowance. “I’m almost due,” Monroy pointed out.

Spanish-speaking activists have formed their own Comite de Igualdad para la Comunidad to push this center to address chronic language problems. On Friday they presented a petition to the federal Civil Rights Office of the Department of Health and Human Services requesting that the center stock Spanish/English forms and make sure translators are regularly available.

Many of CCR’s activists are learning about the organizing process through workshops sponsored by the Bushwick community group Make the Road by Walking. Yorelis Vidal, another Center 62 client, said through a translator that she and many other Spanish-speaking members had never participated in organizing before. She said that many Latino recipients “get scared to fight–they think their worker will find out they’ve been protesting and cut off their case.”

David Perez, another Center 62 client and CCR activist, said he thinks organizing efforts in poor communities are on the rise. “Before welfare reform, people used to just sit on their asses and think, ‘Yeah, I can live on this,'” Perez said. Now, he explained, the new requirements are spurring clients to get organized.

“We are taking action ourselves,” said Vidal. “If us immigrants and African-Americans don’t take action, no one is going to do anything.”

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