The six Washington area local governments will spend an estimated $144 million this year to house, clothe and feed a dwindling number of welfare recipients, according to a report released yesterday by an independent research organization.
The D.C. Municipal Research Bureau, which monitors local government spending, reported that the D.C. government would spend the bulk of the money - 72 percent - on its 101.034 welfare recipients. At least one out of every eight city residents currently receives some form of public assistance.
The number of area residents needing public assistance has steadily declined since 1975, when an average of 159,745 people was receiving assistance monthly, the report said, compared to 144,175 in February, the latest figures available in the report.
D.C. taxpayers will pay 50 percent of the city's $103.6 million welfare bill. The budgets of the suburban jurisdictions pay for a much smaller proportion of their respective welfare costs because the Virginia and Maryland state governments assume part of the local costs.
"The District has a good case to ask for the receive increased federal support for its welfare programs," said Philip Dearborn, executive director of the bureau.
"The city recieves 50 percent (of its welfare costs) from the federal government, which makes it the lowest of any local government in the area, but it has the largest load relative to its size," he said, noting that 13 percent of the city residents receive public assistance. The federal government also pays 50 percent of all state welfare costs.
In contrast, Alexandria city residents will pay in taxes to the city less than 1 percent of the $5.1 million its government has earmarked for welfare payments, according to the bureau's statistics. However, Alexandrians and other suburban residents do pay state taxes, and some of those monies are among those returned to the local jurisdictions to help defray their welfare costs.
"When you hear of a welfare level of $144 million that grabs the headlines, but when you distill that down to $80 a month, which the average District of Columbia receives, that is surprisingly low," said assistant executive director Deborah Maiese, the report's author.
"District recipients can't be accused of living high off the hog," said Albert P. Russo, director of the D.C. Department of Human Resources. "These families really face a struggle to make ends meet."
Welfare families in the District of Columbia and Alexandria receive benefits averaging $239 a month; the highest in the area, while needy Prince George's County families receive the lowest amount - $189.
The average monthly check for a family in Fairfax is $234, in Arlington, $225, and in Montgomery, $221.
The maximum amount that a poor family can receive in each jurisdiction is based on a certain percentage of the 1973 cost of living index, Maiese explained.
The District of Columbia and Virginia currently 90 percen of the 1973 level while Maryland pays 81 percent. The Maryland and Virginia state funds are supplemented in Arlington, Fairfax and Montgomery counties with local funds to help families meet inflationary price increases, she said.
Few families actually receive the maximum allowable amount as calculated by the District of Columbia and the various state and local governments, however. Welfare payments are reduced by using a formula based on how much outside income each recipient has.
So far this year Prince George's has averaged 19,503 recipients on its welfare rolls each month, while Montgomery lists 9,785 recipients; Fairfax 6,861; Alexandria, 4,877, and Arlington, 2,115.