Spencer M Williams.

The Human Relations Agency : perspectives and programs concerning health, welfare, and corrections, 1966-1970 online

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in his district. There was one over there in Modesto and that's his


Williams: district. But he also was getting a lot of press out of the thing.
But he was an active Democrat and we were Republicans and it is part
of the game to criticize the administration. But the Lanterman-Petris
Act was the one which, made it more difficult to get a person into a
state hospital. It required that they have a hearing at the local
community level. I think they could be locked up detained only
five days without a further hearing of the psychiatrist who had to
testify because there have been some horrible examples of people who
had been committed because they were a little senile and maybe not
very senile and then their estates were taken over by their relatives
when they were out of the picture.

Lowry said that there is no reason why you should lock a person
up because he is different, if he is not dangerous, even when they
walk around with funny hats on or make funny noises. Maybe the
communities feel uncomfortable, but it is not fair to deny a person
his own liberties because he is a little different. I mean, odd is
not a reason to lock a person up.

Shearer: How did you deal with the question of determining who is dangerous
at the point of release? It seems to come up over and over again
with people who have been committed for rape or violence toward
another person and are sometimes released.

Williams: That is a problem more in the Adult Authority and the prison system.

Most of the people in the mental hospitals are just old, senile people,
old ladies and old men who weren't dangerous. There were some young
people, but the high percentage was just old senile people and there
was not a real concern about danger there. But if they had a history
of violence, then they wouldn't be released, not as far as I know of.

Shearer: As a result of this program, did the character of the population of
the state hospitals then change to become more dangerous?

Williams: Yes, I imagine so. Also, we had the programs for the retarded and we
tried to change the formula for support and got tremendous opposition.
If the child was emotionally disturbed, the parents paid according to
their ability to pay, so it wouldn't break them if they had to pay
according to their ability to pay, and it was a fairly generous for
mula. But in the retarded cases, the parents only paid twenty dollars
a month I think it was twenty dollars regardless of the cost to
the state, and some of the parents of the retarded were well-to-do
and we tried to get the formulas the same. Of course the parents
resisted it and were bitterly opposed to that idea.

Shearer: You wanted to make the retarded support formula a sliding scale rather

Williams: Yes, that's right.' I mean you couldn't keep a kid in your own home

for twenty dollars a month. But many parents of retarded children are
very emotional about their children, very upset about it. I don't


Williams: know whether they feel guilty but they were really a very strong and
vocal group. They really took us on. We had some great programs for
the retarded in all of the hospitals. We saw big development there,
too, and we'd get contracts. For instance, I think Agnews had a
service contract with United Airlines to sort out the nuts and bolts
after they overhauled the engines. It is tedious work. For people
who are retarded it's great. They can do it, concentrate.

Welfare Programs: AFDC and the Mentally Retarded

Shearer: Why do you think there is such a vast difference between the amount
of services provided mentally retarded children and those on AFDC,
[Aid to Families with Dependent Children] for example, in the degree
of generosity in computing eligibility and the support formulas and
so forth?

Williams: I don't know that there was a difference, but I will tell you this

about the governor. Very early in the administration a group visited
him, parents of retarded children. They told him that the state
program was not up to par and said, "We hope that you can do something
about it." He said, "I am very sympathetic to your program. I have
played a part" in some movie or play "of a parent of a retarded
child and I was able to understand some of the problems and learn
about it, so I assure you that we will do a much better job in
California." He substantially increased that budget every year and
the results were evident.

Shearer: It's clear from the record that funding for the programs specifically
for the mentally retarded was increased during his administration.
Do you think that the concept of blame or blameless mentally retar
dation being no respecter of person or class or ability to pay or
whatever played a part in the governor's attitude? The children on
AFDC might be considered to be blameworthy not so much the children
but their parents

Williams: Oh, I think there is a lot of difference, yes. I think that being

retarded or at least emotionally disturbed are physiological factors
beyond control, and some people are on welfare because they just don't
get out and work. That's the mental attitude of a lot of people.

Shearer: Was that the governor's attitude?
Williams : No , no .

Shearer: He didn't feel that there was an intrinsic laziness? I am thinking
back to his campaign statements on welfare recipients where there
seemed to be a very strong


Williams: It wasn't directed at the children, it was directed at the parents
on welfare. I used to make speeches and maybe I wasn't too popular
because of it, but you take the profile. The actual profile of the
average person on welfare is about an eight-year old or a ten-year
old kid. The public image of a person on welfare is a twenty-eight-
year old healthy minority male who is sitting in front of his color
television set, drinking beer instead of working. That's the mental
image, and the demagogues will blow that up. They've blown it up and
that's what people think the average welfare person is. But most
people on welfare and the AFDC program are basically mothers who have
been deserted with three or four little kids. There are a lot of
gimmicks and games going on in welfare. In welfare there is a lot of
fraud and a lot of mistakes. I think welfare can be a bad program
if the government says to a guy, "If you leave, we'll support your
family" "we will assume your responsibilities in this area." Then
he can become irresponsible very easily in that area. When the govern
ment steps in and assumes people's responsibility that they should
take care of themselves, they can be irresponsible because of the easy
way out. I am not saying that we should abolish the program, but I
have asked whether statistically they can show that welfare programs
have done any good, and they can't. They can show instances where a
person who has been hard up and has gone on welfare and with the help
of that money has gotten training to get a job and has gotten off
welfare. That's great! There are histories of that. But you can't
show statistically that it has done any good.

The turnover of the welfare workers is fantastic. You get some
girl that has graduated from college in music and the only job she
can get is as a welfare worker and she goes to work and she works about
six or eight months and talks to mothers about how to budget their
time and how to raise their kids, and the mothers don't pay any
attention to her and she gets frustrated and quits. There is a
tremendous turnover, so like many programs, the concept is a good one,
but I have never been convinced that it has done the job that it is
supposed to do. It may have actually generated more problems.

Shearer: How would you measure accomplishments of welfare?

Williams: I guess by how quickly you could get a person off of welfare on their
own feet.

Shearer: So the success of a welfare program would be evaluated by the number
of people who are on it; that is, it would be considered successful
as fewer and fewer people receive benefits.

Williams: I would think so, relative to the population. Of course, when welfare
rolls go up, it's a big burden on the budget and everybody says it's
terrible. Sometimes it stays constant, which means it's really going
down relative to the increase in state population, and you try to
take credit for it. They've generally looked at it, I think, as a


Williams: total picture. We haven't thought about how many we have been able
to really help get off welfare. Then they talk about second- and
third-generation recipients now. It has become a way of life and it
doesn't do the people any good. I can give you an example and this
is directly from the governor. He went to Washington one time and I
went back there with him. He went and visited in some of the very
blackest ghetto areas visited with people, individuals. One guy
stood up (I was not there, but the governor told the story.) The guy
said, "I'm on welfare. Here is my welfare money. That's bad money.
That's not worth anything. But in this pocket, this is the money I
earn and this is good money." So he earned it himself and it meant
something to him and he was proud of that. The welfare money was
just something to take and throw away. That's why I have always
advocated that the person who is going to get medical benefits should
pay the first five dollars or something or if they are going to get
free legal services they should pay their first five dollars because
then they have to evaluate, on their economic scale, if it's worth
five dollars. If it's free, if there is no entry fee, you can use
and abuse medical and legal services . I think that what that man said
to Reagan in Washington sort of typifies that. Persons who receive
welfare often resent it.

Shearer: That would seem to point to the efficacy of the flat grant in which
a welfare recipient simply is given a flat amount of money which that
person is to apportion for his medical expenses, food, clothing, rent,
and so forth, as he sees fit.

Williams: Righ.t, or if they can't manage, give it to them in kind. If they

can't manage, then pay the landlords and give them groceries and do
those things because some people don't manage and they spend all their
money on one thing. But the negative income tax concept, which has
been talked about and never really tried as far as I know, is inter
esting. It is interesting because Milton Friedman, the economist,
says, "Welfare is not for recipients; welfare is for the welfare
administrators." If you take the number of people on welfare and
divide the money spent on welfare it comes out to about in those days
$17,000 per recipient. They didn't get $17,000. The $17,000 was
the salary of the' administration and what dribbled down to the bottom
was a very small amount. In the negative income tax, they figure a
level, which is a livable level of income for everybody. Those who
make more than that pay income tax; those who make less than that
are given enough money to bring them up to that level. Write them
out a check and say, "This brings you up to the acceptable level."
So you don't have any administrators. All you do is [have] people
write checks and check qualifications. You can monitor it to see if
they aren't cheating by making more of the same, but other than that,
you don't have to have case workers and all that stuff. But anyhow,
we are really digressing!


Shearer: We were talking about monitoring success in the welfare system. I

guess you're saying that it's difficult to measure success simply in
terms of numbers of welfare recipients in the program. People should
look at the bigger picture look at the amount of unemployment, which
happens to be the case at the time which 'would influence the number
of people out of work and therefore receiving benefits.

Williams: That's true. I don't think anybody really -resents helping someone

who is really in need, but they all think about the cheaters and the
people who really don't try hard and abuse the food stamp program
and those things which irritate a lot of people and properly so.
They may think that it's a bigger problem than actually exists, but
it's there and everybody tries to deal with it and the politicians
like to talk about it and put blame on it. I started a program with
President Reagan. It took me almost three years to get it done
through the resistance I thought it was resistance of the bureaucrats
and that was to match the welfare tapes with the tapes filed by
employers with the Board of Equalization. Every quarter, the employers
are supposed to tell how much they have paid all of their workers,
and the welfare tapes the welfare recipients are supposed to tell
how much they've made to adjust what their grant will be. I said,
"If you can match those tapes by Social Security numbers, you'll see
what the employers are reporting and what the recipients are reporting."
They said, "We can't do it because one is on IBM tape and the other
is on RCA." I said, "Come on, you can make them compatible. Give
me a report back."

In six months I called to see how it was coming. Well, finally
after three years, they finally got the program going. If they found
a discrepancy, we would refer it to a local district attorney who
could investigate and see if it was an error or whether it was fraud.
But it was a good way of monitoring potential welfare fraud.

Shearer: Who were the people who were trying to supply you with the information
to make the tapes compatible?

Williams: The counties are supposed to turn information on welfare recipients'

earnings over to the state and I think it goes on tapes. The employers
were supposed to report employees earnings to the Board of Equalization
for the purposes of state tax. The information was there. It was
just a matter of trying to get a program worked up that could match
it. Of course, sometimes some people have two or three Social Security
numbers and it is hard to stop that now. But the two departments saw
a lot more difficulties in trying to get it going. It's going and
now I think it is nationwide. Bob Carleson, who became director of
Welfare at about the time I was leaving, took it back with him in the
Nixon administration. Also, it deters people who know about it. It's
just like when people find out that IRS is checking their income tax
on computers, a lot of people stopped over-claiming deductions and
so forth. But 'matching 1 was another thing that was started in the
Reagan administration that now is a national program.


Shearer: Did you see over the period of your association with Mr. Reagan any
mellowing of his posture that he adopted in the campaign in which
at one point he said he felt that collective action that is, govern
ment action against bigotry was reprehensible and that personal
action was laudable, that the poor should bootstrap it, and that the
welfare rolls were full of lazy people, and charity essentially should
take the form of tithing rather than any government role. Did he
modify his views?

Williams: I left in 1970, so I was there only three years. Actually, they formed
the government in January of 1967. No, I don't think he had modified
I don't remember him saying that. That's pretty harsh. He's not a
harsh person, but he was receptive to programs, as I mentioned in
the field of the retarded and mental health areas.

He had a Welfare director, John Montgomery, who was young and
vigorous and did a difficult job. I think in those early days, they
were disappointed that welfare didn't go away, that you didn't just
gather up the rolls and solve the problem. I think there was a certain
amount of frustration that we still had a substantial welfare program
after three years . I think that though sometimes when it was reduced
we did a big job in trying to reduce the number of regulations and
that sort of thing but I still think there was a frustration that
they hadn't been able to do a better job in eliminating it. Seeing
Reagan on this safety net question, I think he has really recognized
that the truly needy should be helped. Whether big government should
do it or not, I think he has felt maybe not.

But the question was how many are there who are really needy
and how many are not needy. It's a quantity question. He did, for
the first few years, visit with different minority groups and welfare
groups. I know in southern California and other places he talked to
them about trying to give a guy a hand up rather than a handout. I
think he was willing to spend in that area and he did spend. He had
quite a few programs trying to get people trained. He looked into
the question of the able bodied on welfare. His idea was to have
them work as a condition to receiving welfare.

Shearer: Was this the WIN program?

Williams: Yes, and even if it's raking leaves, at least you're out there working
and it's good for the person and it's good for the economy. Some
people would say, "It costs more to administer the program than the
benefits." Maybe the benefits in dollars and cents didn't equate,
but I think the psychological benefits are there. They do that in
Los Angeles. I know Los Angeles County had a program like that.

Shearer: How would you put together programs that require a considerable amount
of administration and participation, such as the WIN program and the
negative income tax which eliminates all of the bureaucracy? How do
you get the best of both programs.


Williams: In the work programs, I guess what we tried to do was to actually
have it administered at the county level where the state would do
the funding but have it administered through the counties.

Shearer: In the existing

Williams: Structure. Then, of course, we came up with all of these parallel

programs, the OEO program. These training programs were funded federally
and they appointed a lot of poor people to run the program. I don't

Shearer: This is the service center concept?

Williams: No, the service centers were under state direction and administration.
A lot of programs came along I can't put it in the proper time frame
where they would fund these poverty grants and they'd have a lot of
people appointed not connected with the government as such and they
would fund these private programs.

Shearer: New Careers was one group and the Community Action programs.
Williams: I always felt that was crazy if people aren't trained.

Colleagues Remembered




You have mentioned a couple of names of people whom you felt were
excellent in your administration the director of Social Welfare,
John Montgomery, and James Lowry. Can you think of others?

Oh, yes, Ray Procunier was top flight and so was Allen Breed.
Mr. Breed headed the Youth Authority?

Yes, and then we had Gil Sheffield who came over to the department of -
first it was called Department of Employment and then we changed it
to Human Resources Development and now it's called something else. He
came over from the telephone company and he did an outstanding job.
A great administrator and a very empathetic, understanding guy. Oh,
we had Dr. Breslow {who] was inherited from the Brown administration.

Is that Lester Breslow?

Yes, Breslow. He is now, I think, at UCLA.
opposed to him.

The medical society was






Shearer :
Williams :


Williams :

Why was that?

Oh, he was maybe arrogant, maybe he was trying to interfere too much
in the private practice of medicine. I'm not sure. But they really
were antagonistic, and I thought he was doing an excellent job as the
director of public health. When his term expired, I tried to have
him extended to continue on because he had, I thought, a good record.
He was controlling his budget and meeting all the objective perfor
mance standards and doing a solid job I thought but anyhow, they
didn't want him to continue, so we had to replace him. But we had
a fine doctor who was an ex-army person, or maybe he was from federal
public health service, and he replaced Breslow. He was a very
adequate person, but I did think Breslow was excellent. For awhile
I had air pollution and veterans affairs.

Yes, I noticed that.

Was that a result of the Weinberger- Williams

Yes, we tried to put all of the people problems in one area. People
have more problems than anybody and most of the programs deal with
people in one way or another, so that's why we had industrial relations
and their job training programs, and the apprenticeship programs.
That was one we could work through the prisons the apprenticeship
programs. But they all have heavy union control there. We had Al
Beeson. He was in charge of the Department of Industrial Relations
for awhile and Al Tieburg was in apprenticeship. Cap Weinberger's
brother was in Industrial Relations Employment first and then
Industrial Relations.

Peter Weinberger was in the Department of Employment.

Employment, but then he came over to Industrial Relations to replace
Al Beeson. [pause] Al Beeson was the first director of the Industrial
Relations, and he was moved out. He offended the administration.

How did he do that?

He was dealing a lot with labor and they thought he was too pro-labor.
His job brought him in contact with labor and he was trying to get
labor to be more Republican oriented. But I think the final blow was
when he approved head table where the governor was supposed to be
sitting at the same table with Harry Bridges, an alleged Communist.
So they thought that was an absolutely stupid thing to do.

At what setting was this, at what occasion?

The governor was going to speak to a bunch of labor leaders in Los
Angeles .

Shearer: I wish I could have been at that table, a fly on the table!


Williams: So he went into private consulting. I was able to persuade them to
delay it so he could resign and not be fired.

Shearer: But that was sort of a final faux pas?

Williams: Yes, that's what brought it to a head. I had myself met with Harry

Bridges when I was running for attorney general a second time, because
he was involved with Evelle Younger. The story was written up in
The New Yorker Magazine that Evelle Younger went into the FBI and
was doing an investigation on Harry Bridges. He had a wire tap. He
had a room ne-xt door with a wire tap on Harry Bridges . But apparently
Evelle Younger was then single and young and chased around and he had
girls in his room. Harry Bridges had a wire tap on Evelle Younger and
blew the investigation, so Evelle Younger transferred to Montana and
went into the air force after that! Harry Bridges was happy to do
what he could to make sure that Evelle Younger did not become attorney
general .

Shearer: I'd like to come back for a moment to John Montgomery who was welfare
director. I have a note here I think from a memo from you in your
papers indicating that there was a kind of abrasive encounter between
John Montgomery and the governor at a meeting of the Republican State
Central Committee in Anaheim in '67.

Williams : When?

Shearer: Probably the date of the memo was 1967. Whether that was the meeting
date I'm not sure. But I gather that his program and policy became
increasingly divergent from that of the governor.

Williams: Yes, I think it was part of this idea that there was great frustration
that we hadn't made welfare go away or at least cause a substantial
reduction John was from a wealthy family in Ventura County and had
been a county supervisor and had been chairman of the National
Association of Counties 's Committee on Social Welfare. I didn't know
how young he was when I asked that he be appointed. He was about
thirty-three, I think, ox thirty-four. The welfare newspaper, the
trade union, had headlines that said, "Actor" oh, John had also been
head of the Cattlemen's Association so the headline said, "Actor
appoints cowboy to play director." [laughs] That was how they welcomed
John Montgomery! But he was a county supervisor and he worked well
with the counties and the county directors. Of course, the county
directors were all suspect because they were administering programs
and they were asking for more money for their people, for their
recipients and so forth. So being in that position he was suspect.
I think I was suspect because welfare was part of my agency's respon
sibility and I hadn't made it disappear. But I think when John went
back to the HEW and joined the Nixon administration, they weren't
happy that he was tough enough. He was bound by state and federal
regulations on a lot of the stuff he was doing, but I am sure there

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Online LibrarySpencer M WilliamsThe Human Relations Agency : perspectives and programs concerning health, welfare, and corrections, 1966-1970 → online text (page 4 of 11)