Montgomery County, which faces a potential loss of $9.7 million in federal funds for fiscal 1982, has already begun to cut back some of its social services programs. In November, 111 families lost their food stamp benefits; the benefits for 410 other families were curtailed. Public assistance benefits were reduced for 255 families, and only the intervention of County Executive Charles Gilchrist prevented 319 families from losing their benefits.
At this point all requests for supplemental aid are being referred to the county's budget office, where it is hoped some spending and budget priorities can be set up.
Gilchrist, citing the economic "vise" of federal cuts in public assistance, recently announced a program aimed at preventing the working poor from giving up and going completely on welfare. The county has set aside $363,000 to help buy groceries for pregnant women and for working families whose food stamps have been cut off.
Montgomery has also set up a job training program with private industry and hopes to get the county's bar association to do more toward providing the kinds of legal services the federal government used to provide, Gilchrist said.
The cuts, according to the county executive "are going to heighten some of the tensions that always exist between state and local governments." He added that the needs of the working poor seem to be more of a suburban problem than an inner city problem, thus setting Montgomery's working poor against Baltimore's more chronically unemployed.
Still, the county has never relied on federal funds the way Baltimore City or some other jurisdictions have. Only about 20 percent of its $724 million operating budget comes from federal and state funds, and Montgomery is the only county in the Maryland that supplements state welfare payments with local funds.
Because most programs are operating with money that was already in the pipeline before funding was shut off, the county won't feel the deeper budget cuts until fiscal 1983. If the worst happens then, Montgomery could lose a quarter of its state and local funding, according to budget officials.
Montgomery Del. Lucille Maurer, a Democrat and key budget committee member in Annapolis, expects the state will pass a gasoline tax increase and possibly increase cigarette and alcohol taxes to raise revenues. She doesn't think the county will increase any of its taxes, but says, "It would be dangerous at this point to even suggest what might happen."
The lead time on preparing the state and county budget based on what Congress approves "has been almost nil," Maurer complained. She called the reductions "a triple whammy--we get the cuts and we get increased responsibility without the money to handle it, and then we lose money because we don't have the same tax base."
Maurer and other county and state officials warned of another side effect from the cuts that could mean difficulties for all 600,000 county residents, not just the poor.
With the resources down, there will be longer waiting lists for all sorts of programs. Services will be generally slower and probably full of shortcomings.
"And Reagan can be expected to come back to get what he didn't get before," said Maurer. "The picture is going to get grimmer, not better."