Arlington County will have between $3 to $4 million less to spend on programs for its 152,000 residents in fiscal 1982. That loss represents about 15 percent of the $22 million in federal funds the county received in fiscal 1981, Arlington officials said.

Because of the shortfall--and with the fiscal 1983 cuts expected to be even more severe--the county is examining its entire budget and reevaluating all its programs, not just the ones that have lost federal dollars.

"Rather than have the federal government dictate our response, the staff is looking throughout the budget," said Tony Gardner, director of management systems and budget. He said, for instance, that the county might reduce the untouched street-cleaning budget to make up for cuts in child-care services.

The county's Department of Social Services will absorb $449,000 in cuts this year, according to the Northern Virginia Planning District Commissiion. Gardner said the whole social services area faces more than $800,000 in reductions and could lose even more money under the state's current formula for redistribution of its revenues.

He said the funding cuts could not have come at a worse time in that they coincide with the recession that is cutting real estate values and, thus, local tax revenues. The county has set aside a $1 million contingency fund from which it has already taken $300,000 to continue local day-care services, Indochinese counseling and transportation for the mentally retarded.

So far, these groups have been more visible in fighting cuts than clients of food stamps, Medicaid and family planning services, where the full brunt of the reductions is yet to be felt.

"Medicaid recipients are not exactly one of the most powerful special interest groups here," said Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington), who is one of several legislators being lobbied about cuts in benefits to nursing home patients.

Stambaugh said nursing home administrators lobbying to protect their own interests could give the elderly they serve a louder voice in Richmond. "The constituency that serves the constituency may be its savior," Stambaugh said.

He said the state should take the same approach as Arlington in making budget reductions. "If we're really serious, we can start fresh and look at everything--economic development, prisons, capital improvements--so that nothing is sacred when we look for ways to divert money."

Stambaugh said the only bright spot in the bleak budget picture is the possibility that the state will give its political jurisdictions more authority to raise local taxes to better cope with their new money problems.