Mary Jones, meet Mary Peters!

Today’s New York Times has a story above the fold that’s REALLY about “The Department of Mary Jones.” Some may call it “integrated case management” when it REALLY should be called “integrated service management” but there it is: For Recession Victims, Patchwork State Aid.

The article begins “As millions of people seek government aid, many for the first time, they are finding it dispensed American style: through a jumble of disconnected programs that reach some and reject others, often for reasons of geography or chance rather than differences in need.
“Health care, housing, food stamps and cash — each forms a separate bureaucratic world, and their dictates often collide. State differences make the patchwork more pronounced, and random foibles can intervene, like a computer debacle in Colorado that made it harder to get food stamps and Medicaid.
“The result is a hit-or-miss system of relief, never designed to grapple with the pain of a recession so sudden and deep. Aid seekers often find the rules opaque and arbitrary. And officials often struggle to make policy through a system so complex and Balkanized.
“Across the country, hard luck is colliding with fine print.”

The article runs for 21 column inches (including headline and a small picture) across the front page of ‘America’s Newspaper of Record,” and another FULL PAGE inside the first section. NOWHERE is there the slightest suggestion that there might be any solutions to the problems so well laid out. Just problems, problems, problems.

There’s been no apparent attempt to find out if this is a new problem, or just one that’s come up during the recession. There’s no attempt to find out if anyone anywhere is trying to deal with the obvious problems outlined.

There’s no mention of the possible application of “information technology” to the problems. So sad!

What the article does NOT say is that the people who are seeking help from these programs are ALWAYS in a recession of their own. It does NOT mention that each application process can take a person’s whole day waiting in line, filling out paperwork, getting it checked. It does NOT suggest that there might be problems getting transportation to the various offices involved, or that child care is often not available at the drop of a hat.

When Mary Peters came to Washington to become George W. Bush’s Federal Highway Administrator, and later Secretary of Transportation, she was told that to get the staff moving she “might have to kick ass and take names.” Her immediate response was, “Why would I want to take names??”

Creating The Department of Mary Jones will require that spirit!

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