Okay, here’s the deal. You want to know who’s getting Medicaid and/or Welfare (which is no longer called Welfare). I know that you want to know because you are searching the web to find out. In the past week, 81 people have hit on this blog, basically asking “Who’s getting Welfare and/or Medicaid?” (And too many of them come down to “How many black people?” Please keep in mind that God does not love racists and Hell is a forever place.)
So today I decided I was going to find out. I was going to ask the questions and try to get some actual real-time data. Facts. Facts are really cool. So I called the office of the commissioner of the Department of Social Services in Onondaga County. (His name is David Sutkowy and his telephone number is 435-2985 in case you want to give him a call, too.) I asked the nice lady who answered the phone who I should talk to to get demographic statistics on who is receiving Welfare and Medicaid.
She said, “We don’t call it Welfare; it’s called Temporary Assistance.” Well, okay, put me in my place, why don’t you? “The People” call it Welfare no matter what the bureaucracy calls it, and—by golly—I talk with the people, not the system. So then she tells me to call Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance and Food Stamps (which is actually called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but maybe she doesn’t know that). The phone number for Medicaid is 435-2928 in case you want to call them.
The phone number for Temporary Assistance is 435-2700. I called them at 1:23 p.m. and was on hold for 32 minutes. I answered my email, checked the Post-Standard on-line, went to the bathroom, and fixed lunch while I waited for them to answer. A man answered—he didn’t identify himself so I didn’t identify myself—and I asked my question: Who can I talk to to get demographic statistics for the population that is receiving assistance?
He said, “Where are you calling from?”
I replied, “Syracuse.”
He said, “No, what agency? Are you a reporter? What is it you need the information for?”
Since when does my government demand to know why I want information? Whatever happened to transparency? Why does he want to know? It wasn’t asked nicely; the question was snapped at me. Clearly, he felt that he had the right to demand that I justify my request. He put me on the defensive, and I replied that I was a citizen and thought the information should be public.
He put me on hold. When he returned, he snapped, “You want personal information?” Okay, what part of “statistics” did he not understand?
I replied, “No, numbers. No personal information.”
Then he challenged me again with “What is it you need the information for?” WTF? Why are you keeping it a secret? Millions of people in this state are dumping billions of dollars into the state coffers to spend on Medicaid and Welfare: Don’t you think they have the right to know where it’s going? I mean, just once in a freaking while don’t you think the “government” of the people, by the people and for the people should tell the freaking people what’s going on?!
So he tells me to call the Legal Department at 435-2585.
I ask him his name. He says, “Mr. Evans.” You see, that’s the thing about people working in the Dept. of Social Services: all you’ll get out of them is their last name. Anybody else you call anywhere else in this city will first-name you; it’s one of my pet peeves. I’m older than everybody who’s working and I was raised in a time when you called older people Miss or Mister; you didn’t call them by their first name, but nowadays, everybody does. It’s disrespectful. But in DSS, workers self-identify by their last names. You know why? Because they want to make absolutely sure that everybody knows that they are not the same as the scum they serve. They expect to be treated with respect; they don’t return it.
I am a recipient of government subsidies. “They” all call me by my first name; it’s a way of demeaning and infantilizing people who are poor and need help. I am older and smarter than he is, but he is Mr. Evans and I am Anne—or I would have been if I’d given him my name, which I hadn’t because he hadn’t, if you recall.
So then I ask Mr. Evans what his position is. He says, “IM worker—whydoyouwanttoknow?”
“So I can tell Legal who referred me,” I reply and hang up.
Then I call the Legal Department of the Dept. of Social Services. A woman answers and I ask who I should talk to to get demographic statistics about the population served by Welfare and Medicaid.
She says, “I’m not sure.” I figured she wouldn’t be but I’m following the bouncing ball here, just doing as I’m told. She decides I should call the DSS commissioner or the County Executive’s Office. I explain that I started with the commissioner’s office, and ask for the county executive’s number—and I wonder just how much further this is going to go before I’ve been run around in a complete circle.
So then I call the county executive’s office and the woman who answers gives me the name of an actual person! Wow. That is, like, so heavy. Not a unit or a department or an office: a person. A person with a name. We may, by God, have just tripped over the line into accountability.
So I call the guy she referred me to, and I’m not saying anymore right here right now about the conversation, but I am going to get this information for you. Keep checking back.