Advocates for the elderly, the disabled, the poor and others told a D.C. City Council committee yesterday that some of Washington's already inadequate health and social service programs will deteriorate further under new federal budget cuts.
In an atmosphere of uncertainty created by a projected $4.4 million loss of federal funds that has not yet been translated into specific local cuts, each of the advocates urged that their programs be spared from cutbacks scheduled to take effect Oct 1.
The occasion was a public hearing on Mayor Marion Barry's plan for allocating $25.4 million in six federal block grants. That figure represents a loss of about15 percent from the $29.8 million the city now receives through a combination of dozens of specific grants now being merged into block grants.
"How can we say that the elderly are, or are not, more important than troubled adolescents?" asked Jim Kalish, executive director of the Washington Council of Agencies, representing 132 nonprofit groups.
Instead of cutting programs, Kalish suggested the that city could save money and improve programs if it used nonprofit agencies more often to deliver health and social service care. "We provide volunteers, underpaid and dedicated staff, and outside funding, and add this to city money," he said.
Last year, nongovernment agencies received $12.7 million in health and social services contracts from the city, but the figure fell to $8.5 million this year, according to city budget figures.
Kalish said that future city budget cuts are likely to be aimed even more at nonprofit agencies, because the Barry administration has promised not to lay off city employes.
Willette Street, president of the D.C. Home Care Coalition, testified from her wheelchair that services were inadequate for the homebound, saying: "When people come out of the hospital, they need care."
She was accompanied at the hearing by Arcadio Feliciano, an 18-year employe of the Department of Health and Human Services, who said he was incapacitated in an automobile accident last year. Feliciano said he has been trying unsuccessfully for more than two months to receive homemaker service that the city provides for the handicapped and elderly.
City officials have acknowledged that month-long waits are common because demand for the service far outstrips the$4 million budget. Cheryl Fish, of Legal Counsel for the Elderly, said the program is underfunded and would be made worse with cuts.
Jim Chamberlin, program director of the D.C. Lung Association, expressed similar fears about the city's alcohol and tuberculosis programs. Since 1972, he said, the city has cut the program by two-thirds and closed two of three clinics. The city retains "one of the highest TB rates" in the country, he said.
"While we may save money in the short run, it is clear in the long run, when the effects of preventable diseases take their toll, the cost will be enormously greater," Chamberlin said.
"Please don't cut this project off, just as it begins to pay off," said Lee W. Manley Jr. of Ward 4, a volunteer worker with the Alcohol-Tobacco Risk Reduction Project.
The $110,000-a-year project, run by the nonprofit Washington Area Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, has trained and educated nearly 2,000 teachers, parents and students on preventing alcohol and drug problems. The program was supposed to run for five years, but will shut down Aug. 31 unless the city uses block-grant funds to continue it.
"Human services programs are all competing for pieces of a significantly smaller real 'pie' than was available in fiscal 1982," said James A. Buford, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services.
While a $1.1 million city contingency fund is available to offset part of the federal loss, he said, much of that cushion will be lost because inflation in health costs remains about 10 percent.
Council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), chairman of the human services committee that conducted the hearing, said afterward, "It sounds like things are going to get worse before they get better." She said the council "will try to plug in the gaps with city dollars. But where that comes from, God only knows."