“Thank you for allowing me to speak at this meeting.
July 2, 1986 was my first day as a state employee working with the Benzie County Migrant Program. Today I am one of several Migrant Program Workers who work at the Sparta office, handle cases in seven counties.
Most importantly we assist with Day Care to keep the kids out of the fields, Food Stamps to get the parents food when they first get there because they often spend their last dime (getting here to work), and Medical Assistance because you know the kids and the families are often living in dangerous situations with poisons and such in use nearby.
At any rate, Federal Law requires that the State of Michigan have procedures for handling and documenting client discrimination and Civil Rights complaints. And the State of Michigan system is not working.
In 2015 clients verbally complained that administrative policies within my agency were targeting them as members of the Hispanic and Latino community.
Civil Rights training states that the anonymous, verbal complaints should be handled as any other complaint and that it requires that the complaint be investigated by the Director or (District) Manager level with the Office of Human Resources.
Clients’ complaints were brought to the attention of local supervisors, the Section Manager, the County Director, the Office of Human Resources, the Director of Migrant Affairs, a state auditor, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the USDA. The State failed to investigate complaints even when I provided a list of 17 (Hispanic) families whose rights had been violated over a period of a couple months.
As a result of pushing the issue I have been served two Notices of Formal Counseling including one for “voicing concerns regarding the handling of the Spanish speaking community at both the Kent county Sparta and Franklin offices” outside of the local office and threats of further action.
In September 2016 two USDA auditors investigated the complaints and addressed the issues with the administration. Since then the Director, the Section Manager and one of the Supervisors retired.
The new administration this Spring indicated that they were unaware of any investigation or other issues. So I continued to push the issue, including to State Director Nick Lyon, as the Federal Auditor reports seem to have been buried.
The new Director is now investigating the complaints, but I find it deplorable that it took so much to get to the point tht they were actually at it and the clients’ benefits might be restored. It’s clear that the system doesn’t work.
Clients should be able to report violations in their own languages. Front line employees should not have to openly report the administration when the administration is the source of the Civil Rights violations. Local administration should not have the ability to screen out complaints.
It is my request to you that you:
• Establish a centralized reporting/accountability system to record and track all complaints.
• Establish standard protocol for the investigation of complaints including procedures and timeliness
• Establish and require mandatory training for those tasked with investigating those complaints
It should not take two years, two Federal auditors, multiple retirements and reports to the State Director before an investigation of Civil Rights complaints is initiated. The State must comply with Federal mandates to provide equal access to our programs and to investigate when complaints are raised. Silencing the messenger is not the answer.
The Director of OHR (Office of Human Resources) was just approved and given tools to use to silence employees like myself. Please also give her a mandate to fix the broken system now that you have given her a sledge hammer to effect the employees.