Times are tough for Montgomery County social service agencies: Plagued by unemployment and inflation, people who never before needed help are turning to them. But pinched by the first round of federal budget cuts, they have fewer resources to offer those who need their services. And future cutbacks proposed by the Reagan administration may hamper their ability even more.

It was that "Catch 22" that brought government and private social service representatives to a community forum held by Rep. Michael D. Barnes last week at Armory Place in Silver Spring. The forum, attended by 260 persons, was held to discuss the effects of federal budget cuts on Montgomery County's growing social service needs.

It has been estimated that nonprofit organizations could lose $45 billion nationally between 1981 and 1984, Barnes said. Of that, $27 billion is a result of direct budget cuts and another $18 billion results from tax law changes that discourage charitable contributions, he said. Locally, Barnes said, the Washington Council of Agencies has estimated that the area will lose $80 million a year.

Philip Marks of the Montgomery County Department of Social Services said federal cuts have forced the state to drop funding for 12 1/2 positions in the county's social services budget. The county now has fewer foster care workers, homemakers and family service workers, he said. Waiting lists are longer, preventive work has been eliminated and the remaining workers are providing help only to those who need it most, he said.

In addition, Marks said, direct income support programs including food stamps and medical assistance have been cut, meaning fewer people are eligible for benefits.

Rev. Lincoln S. Dring Jr., executive director of the Community Ministry of Montgomery County, said demand for help from the ministry has increased 220 percent over the last two years. Service agencies are seeing more and more people whose food stamps did not last the month, who are newly unemployed, or whose lost and stolen food stamps no longer are being replaced, he said.

Woodrow W. Jenkins, chairman of the Montgomery United Way campaign, also said that more people are being forced to seek help.

"There is a change in the type of people who are seeking assistance," he said. "There are families who are unexpectedly having problems, who are unfamiliar with the help available. Many don't want the stigma of (receiving) welfare and so they are turning to religious institutions."

William Baker, of the Montgomery Associaton for Retarded Citizens, said: "There is unrest and a sense of crisis and urgency felt among our members."