Ingham County Department of Social Services

I graduated from Michigan State University in December 1965 with a bachelors degree in Spanish. The following March, I landed a job as a caseworker for the Mason County Department of Social Services in Ludington. After a little over 2 years there, I transferred to the Ingham County DSS, which at that time was in a new building on Executive Drive in southeast Lansing. A few months later, I became supervisor of the Intake unit, supervising 7 intake workers. I can remember more faces than names:

Tom Stewart

Ilsa Joseph

Bonnie Dingman

Pearl Beachnaw

Edith Keith (who was to become wife #2)

Helene Thelen

Roberta Oettle

Aina Hermanson

Alice Hoffman

Our secretary was Marva Pullin.

I was better at administrative tasks than at casework. I'm not a people person; I'd rather write memos than deal with people face-to-face.

Food Stamp Application. One of my innovations was to develop a new food stamp application form. The old one was a single sheet that the intake worker used as a guide when interviewing an applicant, and it wasn't very helpful. The food stamp program was - and still is - run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and administering welfare programs is not their strong point. The food stamp program was created to benefit farmers. They figured that if poor people could eat rather than starve, it would create a demand for farm products.

We didn't have PCs at that time, so I did the form at home with a typewriter. It was designed to be completed by the applicant, saving time for the interviewer. It gathered all the required information. The back of page 2 was a guide that took the intake worker through the steps of calculating the food stamp allowance. It was enough of a success that the deputy director Chuck Hanson kept the master copy in his desk drawer.

Actually, computers did come to county DSS offices while I was there, but they were terminals rather than stand-alone PCs, connected to the mainframe in the state DSS office in the Commerce Center downtown (now a Cooley Law School building). We called them VDTs - video data terminals.

Domicile. General Assistance at that time was a county program, so we always did our best to move people as quickly as possible from General Assistance to state programs such as Aid to Dependent Children (ADC). As a caseworker in Mason County, I was good at getting adults who couldn't support themselves declared disabled so they could get state Aid to the Disabled rather than General Assistance. I was good at writing extensive "social studies" that described the person's situation and were considered along with with medical and psychological reports in the determination of disability.

One of the eligibility requirements for General Assistance at Ingham DSS was that the person or family live in the county - that their "domicile" was in the county. This was interpreted to mean that they had to have a home in the county - an address, a place where they lived. This allowed us to deny assistance to the homeless. I thought that was a misinterpretation, and pleaded my case in a 7/9/1969 memo to my supervisor Helen Reinhart. She passed it on to her superiors and got the policy changed.

Deputy director Chuck Hanson told me that the county's General Assistance costs increased during my time as intake supervisor, but he didn't ask me to do anything differently.

Welfare for Strikers. This is from page 280 of the book The Automobile Age:

The UAW strike against GM in 1970 lasted 67 days. It cost GM $1 billion in profits, the workers $765 million in wages, the federal government $1 billion in taxes plus $30 million in state welfare benefits and some $375 million in retail sales in Michigan alone.

And during that strike, I was the intake supervisor at Ingham County DSS. We were so overwhelmed with aid applicants that we had to get help from staff outside the intake department. I never was a fan of unions, and felt that we were prolonging the strike by providing financial aid to strikers. I felt so strongly about this that I filed a grievance. I lost, after appealing it all the way up to state DSS personnel director John Smith.

I did keep my job, however, and in January 1971 got a new job in the state DSS office. They needed a procedure writer for a new automated system that eventually got named the Client Information System (CIS). For the story of my adventures there, see Michigan Owes Me $6 Million.