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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ellen Black Winston, December 2, 1974. Interview G-0064. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Negotiating between layers of government for social welfare policies

Winston explains her thoughts on the importance of leadership in negotiating between federal, state, and local government in order to establish a social welfare program that is beneficial to most people. In her description, the role of a state administrator such as herself is that of a mediator between federal government, from where most welfare funding came, and counties, where funding was filtered accordingly. Her comments are illuminating of the ways in which different branches of government operate together in policies of social welfare.

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Oral History Interview with Ellen Black Winston, December 2, 1974. Interview G-0064. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Andrew Doblestein started a dissertation on your years as Welfare Commissioner, at Duke. He says that your success as Welfare Commissioner was based on your ability to build political support on all levels of government, local, state and federal. Do you agree with that assessment of your . . .
I would say this, that in administering public welfare in North Carolina you must work with all three levels. You must work with the federal government because they control a great deal of the money They are responsible for many of the controlling policies with which one has to cope. There is no question about the momentous role of the federal government in social welfare. Of course the program was a federal-state partnership so that meant that one had to work closely with those areas of state government that could have some impact on the program the legislature, the Bureau of the Budget, the Governor's office, the Attorney General's office, your colleagues in other departments in government. The end result was services to people, in the community where our county government carries the responsibility. Actually, here in North Carolina we expected the counties to have a larger share in the welfare picture than was true in many other states. The majority of the states today are state administered programs. What we had, I thought, was perhaps the best of two worlds. Under the law, we had county administered, state supervised programs. The way to handle that is to give strong leadership at the state level so that working with the counties, you move the program ahead. I had, on the other hand, a friend who operated a program that was state administered but the counties had so much responsibility in the way he carried out the program that it really wasn't very different from the one in North Carolina. It's how you manage, really, in terms of whether or not the program is really guided at the state level. And when you get to that point, you don't have too much difference in state administration and state supervision. A lot depends on the administrator, frankly, the administrator and the other people at the state level who have the potential for giving leadership. If they exercise it, you are in fine shape, I think, with local administration. If you don't, then you are bound to have all kinds of troubles, because counties vary so much in their social philosophy and their abilities to move ahead.
That's true, especially in North Carolina with some very poor counties and then larger ones.
That's right.