Page 23


years on the job. “But right now, I figure it’s a very rare worker who can take time to counsel a client. Sometimes a worker is faced with a client who has come in in tears, but most of the time the worker is cringing inside, thinking ‘Please don’t bring that up.'” The troubles plaguing DHS don’t just affect client. The difficulties of the job have led to astronomical turnover rates among caseworkers, which in turn over-burdens the remaining workers, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of stress and disillusionment. In January 1991, for instance, 50 percent of the Austin region’s CPS had been on the job for less than a year, according to DHS statistics. According to Michael, many workers don’t last much longer than a few months on the job; a few months, that is, after the three-month paid training period required of DHS workers. “Since April, five people have left out of a nine-person unit,” said Michael. “So it’s basically all new workers, and many are in their early 20s, just out of the university on their first job. It sounds strange, but people who’ve been here two years are old-timers.” “Right now there are 11 vacancies, out of about 60 people in this office,” said Beverly Garrett, a medical eligibility specialist. “I’ve been under six supervisors since I started here in 1987,” echoed Francisco, an income assistance worker who requested that his real name not be used. “And I don’t think any unit here is fully staffed.” Many caseworkers, such as Meyer, leave DHS to work for other state agencies, such as Meyer said that her starting salary at TRC, $21,050 annually, is the same as her DHS salary, despite her 11 years with the department. And according to Leslie Lemon, staff director of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, DHS workers are among the lowest, if not the lowest, paid state workers. “I think all but three of the 2,000 or so lowest paid state workers are with either DHS or MHMR \(Mental Health and Mental Retardation],” said Lemon. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of DHS caseworkers are women. The DHS 1991 Affirmative Action Report states that 95 percent of the administrative support workers and 75 percent of the caseworkers are women, whereas 58 percent of the officials and administrators are men. “There are people who start as workers in their 20s and retire as workers,” said Garrett. “It’s a real problem that there’s nowhere to go. Right now there are two men here, but when you get into the upper levels of management and state offices, it’s almost entirely men. So your first week on the job may be as far as you can go. You gotta either really like what you’re doing or just go crazy.” Like women, minority workers are also under-represented in the upper echelons of DHS. According to DHS statistics, 88 percent of department administrators, 60 percent of professionals, and 57 percent of technicians are white. “I see that minority people are still not being given the opportunity to move up “All of these kids are going down the tubes, very few are going to make it in any kind of produc tive way. It’s just go ing to get worse and worse….” overworked, and underappreciated, many DHS workers feel that the system in general does not value the work of social service. “It’s frustrating,” said Garrett. “The media has made DHS out to be some kind of villain. But the real villain may be a way of thinking. We’ve been taught that we live in a fair society and anyone who wants to make it can. I think that’s made it easy for people not to help people who have legitimate needs. There are so few services for the poor, and you have to be starving to death practically before there’s anything to help you. I have some clients with AIDS who’ve asked, ‘What am I supposed to do, die?’ And they’re right. There’s nothing out there.” “The story isn’t just that DHS isn’t doing the job,” agreed Michael. “The story is about how the government and the society are just not serious. They say they are, but they don’t fund services. All of these kids are going down the tubes, very few are going to make it in any kind of productive way. It’s just going to get worse and worse because of the way the economy is structured, and these people are expendable.” “I really believe, personally, that the citizens of Texas and the U.S. deserve some kind of income maintenance,” said Meyer. “Even if Momma and Poppa don’t, the kids sure do. Ideally, welfare benefits are not supposed to be a life style. We want clients to find jobs. But in reality, it doesn’t translate. The state of Texas wants a mother and child to live on $158 loud, that’s ridiculous.” But according to Lemon, the prognosis for more or better-targeted funding is not promising. “It’s not that the Legislature is so reluctant to fund the program.” she said. “It’s that they’re unable to come up with a mechanism to do it. The magnitude of trying to do anything at DHS is overwhelming. Just raising the AFDC grant $100 a month, for instance, would cost the state about $309 million a year.” Just what keeps a DHS caseworker going is difficult to discern. For some, employment at DHS may be just a job until something better comes along. But for others, the often intangible sense of making a difference in someone’s life, can be enough. “One good thing is that you are working with people who really do care about people, as opposed caring about business,” said Garrett. “I kind of felt guilty leaving,” said Lisa. “I had a wonderful unit and the supervisor was great. The people who do this job are understanding and compassionate, and they care about what happens to the kids. Because it’s certainly not the money.” “I’ve been on the other side of the street myself,” said Francisco. “I was once a client, so when a worker comes in, I know what they’re going through.” LI “Best Lodging Location for Fishermen & Beachgoers” Group Discounts P.O. Box 8 Port Aransas, TX 78373 Send for Free Gulf & Bay Fishing Information the ladder,” said Francisco. “And you need minority and bilingual people to help with clients . who are not bilingual.” Francisco, who’s work load ranges between 250 and 300 cases \(the department, in comparison, claims that AFDC case loads range from 135 to 190 cases and food stamp case few other bilingual workers in his office are frequently overburdened by the need to assist English-speaking co-workers with Spanishspeaking clients. “I think it would help if there were a slight increase in bilingual workers,” he said. “Or if the department could train English-speaking workers in a minimal amount of Spanish.” IN ADDITION TO BEING, underpaid, THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11