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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ted Fillette, April 11, 2006. Interview U-0186. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

<cite>Alexander v. Hill</cite> and challenging the AFDC to abide by federal processing regulations

Fillette describes the <cite>Alexander v. Hill</cite> case of 1974-1975. Carrying over from his earlier discussion regarding laws that disfavored low-income tenants, Fillette explains how the Legal Aid Society of Mecklenburg County sought to challenge the AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) to respond to filed grievances and provide relief within the determined window of time. To a large degree, the case centered around whether or not pregnant women could apply for Medicaid in order to receive prenatal care. The case eventually became statewide in scope and in 1975, they received a temporary order from Judge James McMillan to make the state comply with federal processing regulations.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ted Fillette, April 11, 2006. Interview U-0186. 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.

Full Text of the Excerpt

One of the things that really shocked me in 1974, that I still remember vividly, was how many families came to us with what was viewed as a housing or utilities crisis—that is they were behind in their rent or their utilities were unpaid and utilities were either threatened to be terminated or had already been terminated, and the landlords were threatening to terminate the lease for non-payment—was really as a result of their family having applied for AFDC and having gotten no decision from the welfare department. There were a couple of families that came to us with that problem, but then the same month, it was July of 1974, and one lady had applied more than ninety days previously and still had not gotten a decision. Another one had applied something like sixty or seventy days. One of the other lawyers in the Legal Aid office and I were looking at this and we realized, we did a little research and found that the federal regulation that governed the AFDC program required the local department to make a decision within thirty days of the family's applying for help. For people that apply for Medicaid, they had forty-five days to make a decision if that was based upon a claim for disability of the applicant. When we contacted the welfare department and asked why these applications were pending so long and creating these crises for people that were about to be evicted, the answer was, well we had different answers, but the most common one was the application worker for this particular client had gone on maternity leave or had quit and they didn't reassign the cases to anybody else. So they were just sitting there in a file drawer and nobody was taking any responsibility for it. We explained that this had caused some severe crises where people were living in houses without power or without water and some of them were about to be evicted. The welfare department said, "Well, we just can't do any better than this." So what we decided to do was file a civil action in the federal district court in Charlotte seeking injunctive relief to compel the welfare department to comply with the federal processing standard of making a decision within thirty days, to get the decisions made so that people would have enough money to pay for at least the rent and the utilities, to try to not be completely destroyed by eviction. I've just explained to you what happens when a family is evicted. The welfare department's only remedy for a family that's been put on the street was to pick up the children and put them in foster care, which was a whole lot more expensive than paying the grant for the family of four. It would cost the welfare department three times as much to put the family in foster care as it would be to just grant their application for AFDC and try to stabilize the family where they were.
SARAH THUESEN:
Was this the Alexander. v. Hill case?
TED FILLETTE:
Yes it is. It was filed in 1974.
SARAH THUESEN:
And who was Alexander?
TED FILLETTE:
She was one of those families that I described. Her name was Clara Alexander and she was a young mother. I can't remember exactly how many children she had. It was not a very large family, but she just didn't have any other source of income at that time. Now a lot of times people were working and then they lose their job and there wasn't any other way to get income to support the family. That's usually what happened. The other problem with the department at that time was that young women that were pregnant for the first time would want to apply for AFDC to have some income and to be able to get Medicaid so they could get prenatal care. In other states in the country, the welfare departments would pay for the unborn children and consider that applicant qualified for assistance as soon as she was diagnosed as pregnant. So they would cover the unborn child and that would qualify them. North Carolina refused to cover unborn children and so we had young first-time mothers that were trying to get income and be able to get medical care to have a healthy delivery and they couldn't get any help. So we filed another federal action to try to establish that right to get assistance for the unborn children through the AFDC and Medicaid programs. That was again an action under the Social Security Act.
SARAH THUESEN:
Was that the Taylor v. Hill case?
TED FILLETTE:
I believe that was Taylor. Both of those cases were assigned to Judge McMillan and eventually, we turned both of those cases into statewide class actions. After we had filed the Alexander case, we were in communication with some of the other people in the other two Legal Aid offices and at that time, they realized that the counties they were trying to serve had similar problems. They were not as severe as Mecklenburg's. In Mecklenburg, we had people that were going three and four months without getting a decision and it was creating truly severe crises for families, whereas in Greensboro and Durham, they wouldn't make the decisions in thirty days, but they usually didn't take three or four months. They would just take maybe two months instead of one month. By doing discovery with some of those other counties, we realized that it was more of a statewide problem, so we asked permission to convert the case for the individuals in Mecklenburg County to cover a class of similarly- situated AFDC and Medicaid applicants across the state. Within a year of filing it, I think we got a temporary order from Judge McMillan, I think on August thirteen, 1975, about a year after we filed it, that authorized us to proceed as a class and to have the state make a plan to come into compliance with the federal processing regulations.