Putting the ‘human’ in human services

August 29, 2014

From the September-October 2014 issue of News & Letters

Chicago—On July 28 I attended a meeting about putting the “human” back in human services in Illinois. Several government officials were invited to hear our complaints, including State Representative Mary Flowers and Michelle Saddler, Secretary of the Department of Human Services (DHS).

The audience, mostly Black people living in poorer neighborhoods, talked about not being able to get the minimum services from DHS that they were entitled to. One woman had her food stamps reduced from $215 a month to $12 without an explanation. The last time her friends checked in on her, she was eating cat food out of necessity.

A company, Maximus, was hired by the state to “end Medicaid fraud.” All they did was send random people letters telling them that their Medicaid was being cut off, again with no explanation. People going to the DHS office to find out how to get back on Medicaid found that, due to a new “assembly-line service” in most offices, they no longer had a case worker to talk to. They ended up talking to someone who knew nothing about their cases and couldn’t help them. 

People from the mental health community talked about the closing of many neighborhood clinics. They no longer had anyplace to get their medication or to talk to someone, and many were ending up in the hospital.

We were angry and vocal. We talked about the often unbearable burdens we had taken on to make sure a loved one got the services they needed. Several caseworkers spoke out. One talked about having her case load go from 500 to 2,000, making it impossible to keep up with everyone’s needs. She spoke of knowing that people often wait a year or more for services from DHS and the Department of Rehabilitation Services and that sometimes, when she finally makes a required visit, the person has died. She worried that the lack of services contributed to that person’s death. She also talked about problems in their offices, including rats, dirty bathrooms and a system of dealing with people that left them frustrated and angry.

Mary Flowers agreed that the situation was a mess and needed to be changed but she had no ideas on how to do so. Michelle Saddler said yes, “But the situation is getting better and we need to know that. We need to be patient and let them take care of things.” This was a blatant lie and disrespectful to the audience and everything we’d been saying. I challenged Saddler and other people joined in and a heated argument started with Saddler blaming the audience members for the problems!

Unfortunately, the forum ended without any talk of the kind of new society that might address these problems and what that would mean for the current situation.

—Suzanne Rose

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