Firsthand: Sandra Killett Williams

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I’m a mother of two boys. Simeon is 6, Sam is 8. I’m 39 years of age. I have a high school diploma. I worked at Chemical Bank for 15 years: first as a clerk and ultimately as an officer of the bank. I didn’t pass this insurance exam so they fired me. In 1998, I first collected welfare. I’ve been on public assistance on and off now for three and a half years.

My first contact from HRA was a letter that says, “Come to a work orientation.” I’m assuming that I’m going to speak to a case manager and get a plan to get me back to work. But what I’m told is, “Here is the assignment.” Aren’t they supposed to assess me and ask what I’m capable of doing? Then I went to my WEP assignment. It was maintenance work using chemicals. I have a bad rash on my arm and so I said, “I can’t use chemicals. Can’t I get an office job?” They said no: “You have to do maintenance work.” There was no type of adjustment made. Everything is run like you’re in a herd.

My dealings with the welfare office on getting an education were mind-boggling. I went in and asked, “What training programs can I be involved in? Can I go to college?” I was told, “You can’t do it.”

HRA’s message is you come in and do exactly what we tell you to do. I’ve had friends who were forced to stop school because of welfare. If you’re already in school, it’s difficult. If you want to go to school, it’s not an option.

I really want to go back to school. I want to do something to help children and let parents know they have rights. Parents on welfare take a whole lot of crap that you would never take but you want to help your children. When I first went to HRA, I cried because of the way they treated me. At no time should you experience that humiliation. In high school, I had to go with my mother to her welfare appointments. It was horrible. The system now is the same as it was for my mother. It was horrendous then and it’s still horrendous now.

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