06 April 2009

The State of Michigan isn't here right now, please leave a message...

The last three letters that I have read on other's behalf have been from the State of Michigan Department of Human Services, the Social Security Administration, and the Michigan Unemployment Agency. Here is the content of these letters, (paraphrased):

"The Department of Human services has not received information that should have been necessary before your monetary assistance started. Please call your case worker in order to provide this important data. Until this call is made, you owe the Department all benefits you have previously received. This amount is currently $22,000."


"The Social Security Administration would like to renew your current state in order to determine whether or not your benefits should continue in the same manner. Please contact the Social Security Office in order to arrange a date to be re-evaluated. Until this date is arranged, all of your income will be cut off."


"The Michigan Unemployment Office necessitates that you call to certify your existence and whereabouts before your check will be sent to you. Please do this on your designated day by phone, or on MARVIN online. Unless you call to certify, you will not receive your check."

The government assistance agencies in the State of Michigan have created a situation in which the well-being of individuals depend on telephone communication (or in the case of the Unemployment Office, Internet connection). Aside from the fact that those in need of this assistance are those who are lease likely to have a personal telephone or Internet connection (the library and local non-profits have worked to fill in that gap), it is almost impossible to contact these three government agencies on the phone.

Since I began at the Referral Desk in June of 2008, I have been able to reach only one caseworker at the Department of Human Services. When I did finally get her on the phone, she reprimanded me, impatiently, "Don't you know that I have over 800 cases? How do you expect me to always return your calls?" I was not aware that she had over 800 cases, and would never expect her to return that many phone calls. I presume that the only reason my call was returned was because I was a representative with a local agency--their own clients are most likely the last to receive a message response.

Of course, there is no particular case worker that can be blamed for the communication inadequacy, but the consequence of this is manifested in individuals and families being unable to pay their bills--not because they do not have the income to cover it, but because that income has been temporarily suspended for reasons outside of their control. I can't imagine how frustrating this must be for the lower-level employees at these agencies themselves.

In the book "A Framework for Understanding Poverty", Ruby Payne describes our society as one that forces every socio-economic class to operate by middle class rules. Not only is this an example of a circumstance in which this is required, but also one which is unmanageable if fulfilled.


  1. 800?? That explains a lot about my experience with DHS caseworkers.

  2. DHS likes to talk to you only if you are doing work that they need (AKA Records). Even though I work with them so often, its rare that we have a single conversation.
    That being said, it gives you a little more motivation to go to work every morning.