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Welfare Woes Dim Christmas Hopes for Family

December 15, 1987

OHLEY, W.Va. (AP) _ Billy and Lilly Rose struggled to get off public assistance and nearly made it, until the discovery of cancer forced him to quit his low-paying job for treatment.

Now the young family’s struggle is with the government, which cut off their food stamps, lost paperwork and ignored their pleas for help.

″We didn’t want to go back on welfare,″ said Mrs. Rose, 21. ″But it seems like it was easier to get the first time - and we didn’t need it nearly as bad.″

The couple and their 1-year-old son have been without income since October, when doctors told Rose, 23, that what he believed to be an ear infection was a cancerous tumor behind his nose.

He faced months of chemotherapy and had to quit his job, but the family was assured that public assistance would tide them over. So far, however, with medical bills mounting and Christmas approaching, no money has materialized.

″They’ve done nothing on her application,″ said Arla Ralston, a paralegal with the Legal Aid Society of Charleston. ″They’ve lost reports from the doctor, lost her monthly (income) report, and nothing has happened with the AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) benefits or their medical card.″

The lost paperwork led to the withdrawal of the family’s only public assistance, food stamps.

After her husband’s illness was diagnosed, hospital social workers sent Mrs. Rose to the federal Social Security Administration, which sent her to the Department of Human Services. All assured her the family was eligible for benefits.

″In the beginning, the man I talked to at the welfare department was real nice, and he assured us there would be no problem, and I would hear from them in a couple of days,″ Mrs. Rose said.

″But they never wrote me, they never called me. They just ignored me, like I’m not there.″

But Mrs. Rose was not to be ignored.

″I kept calling them, and I guess they got tired of hearing from me, but they started to get real hateful,″ she said. ″It got so every time I called, I’d end up in tears.″

Marcy Heitmeyer, Charleston-area supervisor for the Human Services department, said she was unable to discuss the Roses’ case with reporters. ″We really can’t discuss specifics without legal releases,″ she said.

A social worker at the Charleston Area Medical Center, where Rose has been treated, has been trying to help the family, said Sally Llewellyn, another social worker.

But the hospital also has struck out with the Human Services bureaucracy. ″We have had our share of problems trying to get a status report on their benefit applications,″ Llewellyn said. ″We can’t seem to get a response.″

Since October, the Roses’ case has been assigned to four different caseworkers, Mrs. Rose said.

″We owe two months on everything,″ Mrs. Rose said, ″and we’re starting to get disconnect notices. If our landlord wasn’t so considerate about waiting for the rent, I don’t know what we’d do.

″It seems like everything is just piling up.″

The Roses, married two years ago this month, haven’t had an easy time since their son, Billy Jr., was born. Living on Cabin Creek in eastern Kanawha County, they were unemployed like many others in the area, where coal once was king but now is little more than a memory.

In April, after months of joblessness and welfare benefits, Rose found a job at a van conversion company in Belle. It didn’t pay much and the family still received food stamps, but they got off welfare and looked forward to leaving food stamps behind as well.

Then their son developed severe allergies requiring treatment Mrs. Rose says the government wouldn’t pay for, and Rose learned about his cancer.

Rose has completed three one-week chemotherapy sessions and is due to start six weeks of daily radiation treatments in January. Doctors told him to rest and conserve his strength to fight the disease.

″But right now he has a double worry - he’s worrying about the cancer, and he also has to worry about us. He’s supposed to take it easy, but he’s talking like maybe he should try to go back to work.

″They give him a 50-50 chance,″ Mrs. Rose said. ″We’re hoping he can go back to work next summer and maybe by this time next year it’ll all be done with.″

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