Since the day the president announced his intention to take a heavy ax to federal budget, the poor have been wondering when and how the ax would fall on them. The president and his advisors promised early on that the truly needy would feel no pain. Still, for the working poor, the disabled, for all the people who depend on federal aid, the president's promise has brought few assurances. For three Northern Virginia families, the proposed cuts have brought concern and anger, and in some cases, resignation.
Bill King has been looking for a job for four years. Almost every week, the 43-year-old King, who is a trained mechanic, applies for three or four jobs, mostly work like trash pickup or gardening that pays the minimum wage. But a back injury King suffered four years ago causes most employers to toss his application in the bin, even though the federal government has told King his injury is not serious enough to allow him to receive disability payments.
King and his wife Marilyn, who live in the Cameron Valley area of Alexandria, are the legal guardians for their 15-month-old granddaughter Tiffany.
The Kings depend on an array of local and federal programs. King, for instance, receives $175 a month from a local relief program, designated to help people who cannot qualify for federal assistance.
Marilyn King receives $238 a month for the permanently disabled from Supplemental Social Security. The family receives $190 a month in AFDC for Tiffany.Both Marilyn King and Tiffany depend heavily on Medicaid benefits.
"I don't want to be filthy rich," Marilyn King says, "but I don't want to be in the class I'm in. It would be nice to have a few extra dollars from time to time to buy a pair of shoes or a dress without having to think about taking food from the table."
Rose Ricks is a proud woman. Reluctantly, she answers a reporter's questions about the federal aid that helps her get by, and refuses to have her picture taken.
Last year, Ricks lost her job with CETA, a federal program designed to help the poor and marginally employed. Ricks was unable to find another job, so with a low-interest federal loan and aid from several public assistance programs, Ricks returned to college.
Ricks hopes to finish her degree in two years and find a job as a corrections officer. When she does, she hopes she and her two children will be able to move from the small apartment in Fairfax County that costs her half the $515 a month she gets from her college loan and public assistance.
"I want to progress," Ricks says. "I want to get off this system. When you're on welfare, you're not really in control of your life.
"If I have to, I'll scrub Ronald Reagan's White House floors to get off this."
For most of the winter, Pauline Herndon has been stuffing envelopes, 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Herndon gets up a 4:30 every morning to fix breakfast for her two children before catching a 5:50 a.m. bus that takes her to Falls Church in time to report to work at 7 a.m. Her workday ends about 8 p.m. when she arrives back at her Alexandria home.
Herdon earns $4.50 an hour, and in weeks when she doesn't get any overtime, her take-home pay is about $110, or less than $450 a month.
last fall, Herndon pinched a nerve in her back, which kept her from work for a month and left her with a $1,200 hospital bill. She had no health insurance and wasn't eligible for unemployment benefits. Herndon is still paying off the hospital bill.
Recently, Herndon finally agreed to a friend's suggestion that she apply for food stamps, the only public assistance she receives. Although she now receives $46 a month in the stamps, she can barely wait for the day when she can afford to get off the program.
"I feel bad," Herndon says, "I don't want those people to have to help me, but I need it. As soon as I can get off of it, I will."