Five days a week, Gloria Slade cooks, cleans and shops for two elderly Alexandria residents. One must use a walker to move around and has had two heart attacks in the past year. The other is slowed by arthritis and a fractured hip.
But soon, these two people may be without an aide. Slade's job is funded under the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) and next month her CETA contract expires.
The job is part of the Alexandria elderly companion service and is earmarked for elimination under Ronald Reagan's proposed CETA cuts. In his budget message last month, Reagan recommended that 340,000 CETA jobs for low-income persons be cut by the end of this fiscal year.
Since then, Reagan has announced plans for even deeper cuts: Last week, he announced a proposal to trim funds from the CETA training program; on Monday, he imposed a hiring freeze on all CETA jobs.
Although federal officials refused to identify where the additional cuts might be, they indicated that the prime beneficiaries of CETA -- cities, counties and other agencies -- may have to return 32 percent of the funds already allocated for some federal jobs programs and defer until 1982 the use of funds planned for others. The new cuts also could mean some CETA workers could be laid off soon, even though their jobs had been guaranteed for at least several more months.
Translated into local terms, the news was bad. In Alexandria, the proposed cuts in the city's $2.8 million CETA budget could affect 42 city workers and as many as 1,000 people in CETA training programs. In Arlington, 50 county workers and more than 550 people in CETA training programs could be affected. And, in Fairfax County, officials estimate the cutbacks could cost them at least $600,000 for their jobs program.
Although most CETA officials in Alexandria had expected some cutbacks, the unexpected hiring freeze brought warnings that several city programs would be eliminated. For example, although all five CETA positions in the elderly companion program expire next month, federal funds had been allotted to hire replacements. The freeze ended those plans.
Social service workers say they do not know what they are going to do to help the 12 residents now served by the program.
"These people are physically incapable of maintaining their houses by themselves . . . it's very likely that if we can't provide the service any longer, their houses are going to fall apart and most of them will end up in the hospital or a nursing home by the end of the year," said Dave Stasko, director of the program. Stasko said residents can earn no more than $449 a month to be eligible for the program.
"The majority of these people qualify for Medicare, so when these people have to got into a nursing home or a hospital the government is going to have to pay for that. The costs between the two (elderly companion service and hospital fees) are incomparable," Stasko said, estimating that it costs less than $700 a month for the residents to remain in the community, while nursing home bills could run well over $1,000 a month.
The companion service gives a microscopic view of why officials argue both for and against funding jobs in the public sector through CETA.
Social service officals say the propgram provides a needed service and offers jobs and training to the unemployed.
But workers complain that some CETA programs rarely teach them a marketable skill. That argument is used by federal officals who contend that CETA has wandered from its original purpose -- to prepare individuals for jobs in the private sector and to provide temporary jobs; during periods of high unemployment. These officials say CETA funds should not be used to support services that should be funded by local governments.
"It's been a rough, rough 18 months . . .," said Delores Wilson, a 32-year-old mother of five who turned down a non-CETA job because she thought she would learn a marketable skill with CETA. "I don't blame CETA -- CETA's been nice to me. But they really don't know what's going on . . . We took all these life cycle and Red Cross classes before starting, we thought we were going to learn something.
"But what did I wind up doing? Scrubbing floors. How's that going to help me get a job?"
Alexandria officials concede there have been problems with the administration of CETA programs in general, but say all programs should not be judged by past problems.
"CETA was abused at one time, and I guess it continues to be abused in some places. But what's most frustrating is that it's taken all this time (since 1974) to write regulations to get the bugs out. And now Reagan plans to take it apart," said Gary Post, assistant CETA director in Alexandria.
"Whether Reagan's plan (to help the economy) succeeds or not is not really the question when you talk about most of these people (employed through CETA). It's not really going to affect these people -- an economic upturn has never helped them."
Pedro Del Aguila, a clerical worker at the Alexandria CETA office, echoes Post's concerns. Del Aguila, 50, has been working odd jobs since he lost his job as a bank administrator four years ago. Although he has five children to support, he refuses to apply for welfare. Del Aguila landed the CETA job, which pays $9,000 a year, only last month.
"I don't know what I will do if I lose this job. I guess I will search again. When I came to this country (from Peru in 1960), I had my mind made up to make some progress. I didn't come to sit around and watch the world go around.
"I love America, and I won't panic, but I just wish Mr. Reagan would find a job for all those who are going to lose a job.
"Where are we going to go? To the unemployment office?"