Federal cuts in programs for the poor are taking a heavy toll on families affected by the cutbacks, and with still more cuts anticipated next year, local governments are coming to the end of their resources to help the poor, according to local officials involved with the programs.
". . . We see that there are some significant impacts resulting from the cuts in almost every case we have reviewed ," said Martin P. Wasserman, director of the Arlington Department of Human Resources. "By and large, the slack is not picked up by the county , so the suffering is increasing."
Although some officials say families affected by the cutbacks seem to be coping, critics contend that the program reductions have produced increasing pressures for the poor.
In Arlington County, a memorandum recently prepared by the county staff for board member Ellen M. Bozman gives some indication of the problems, which the report directly links to cuts in social services and the ailing economy:
* A 50 percent increase in crisis intervention cases -- emergency cash aid to help those threatened with eviction or facing hunger because they have no money to buy food -- in the first five months of this year. The report states more money has been added to the budget for crisis intervention cases in the coming year.
* More pleas from the county for emergency food from private sources such as the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and soup kitchens. Over the past year, local officials said, average food stamp payments to Arlington households dropped 10 percent, largely because of federal program changes.
* A 10 percent increase in child abuse and neglect cases, described by the report as still "another indicator of the impact of poor economic conditions or reduced public assistance benefits."
The problems in Arlington reflect those throughout Northern Virginia; local officials say they are just now beginning to see the effects of the cutbacks, a year after many were implemented.
"Definitely the cuts that we've experienced in the various assistance programs have caused real hardships for families in our locality, both financial and emotional," said Ronald M. Eamich of the Loudoun County Department of Social Services.
"Our subjective evaluation of the situation is that there are a lot of people having difficulty making ends meet, or having a lot of family stress or strain that did not exist before now," added Ricardo Perez, director of social services in Prince William County.
Across Northern Virginia, program cuts have affected a range of services from day care to Medicaid to Aid to Dependent Children.
Although cuts in some programs have been relatively minor, local officials say the cumulative effect on the poor, who often are served by several programs, can be devastating.
"It's been very hard for me," said Eva L. Ashby, an 80-year-old Arlington resident. Ashby had been receiving housekeeping help from a special companion care service, but the companion's hours were cut from 25 to 15 a week last September. Because of chronic health problems, Ashby said, she takes several medications, and under Medicaid she now pays $1 instead of 50 cents for each prescription that costs more than $10. And earlier this month, she said, her food stamp payments were cut from $74 a month to $52.
"I'm just trying to keep alive," Ashby said.
"In terms of the elderly, the impact has been really severe," said Barbara Glaser, head of the Arlington social services division.
The broadest social services program is Aid to Dependent Children, popularly known as welfare. Largely because of new federal rules that make it more difficult to qualify for ADC, Northern Virginia governments have trimmed a number of familes from ADC. Once a family qualifies for ADC, officials say, it also is eligible for other programs such as Medicaid, a government health-care program for the poor.
In the past year, Arlington has dropped more than 120 households from the ADC program. In Fairfax, there are nearly 300 fewer ADC cases this year than last, and in Alexandria, about 250 fewer ADC cases were being served as of this June. Local officials say that most of those affected were the "working poor," families for which ADC supplemented incomes from full- or part-time jobs.
Ironically, ADC caseloads in some areas, such as Loudoun County, are increasing. In some cases, social workers say, rising unemployment has forced some families back on the ADC rolls, while others have quit low-paying, "marginal" jobs to requalify for ADC and Medicaid.
A major concern of local officials dealing with the poor is the emotional impact the shrinking aid is having. As economic pressures build, experts say, the ability of families to deal with the pressures decreases.
"As you pull the basic survival needs out from under a family, it begins to disintegrate," said Brenda L. Russell, a child welfare specialist with the Child Welfare League of America.
Russell said a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed a 17 percent increase nationwide in substantiated child abuse and neglect cases during the past two years. In Arlington, the number of abuse and neglect cases rose 10 percent, according to the county staff report, and Wasserman noted that the number of child abuse cases this year exceeded the number of neglect cases for the first time in recent years.
In Fairfax County, new child abuse and neglect cases increased 20 percent in the past year, estimated C. Edward Amundson, assistant director of the county Department of Social Services. Alexandria officials, although they had no firm figures, also reported an increase in such cases.
"Cutbacks in income maintenance programs, such as ADC , Medicaid and food stamps have directly placed families under increased stress . . . and that in turn has caused an increase in child abuse and neglect," Russell said.
Other cutbacks, workers say, have forced families to make painful decisions.
For example, because of federal cuts some Northern Virginia areas have made reductions in companion care for the elderly.
Otto H. Leicht, 74, of Arlington, said his home help was cut from 20 to 15 hours a week this spring. Leicht, who has a heart condition, had depended on the companion to help him and his wife, who has Parkinson's disease, with a variety of household chores.
"That made a lot of difference," Leicht said of the cutback. "I'm exhausted and I can't carry on no more."
Since the reduction in help, Leicht said, he feels he can no longer adequately care for his wife and he reluctantly asked two nursing homes to accept her. So far, Leicht said, he has not heard from either home.
The list of program cuts goes on:
* Fairfax. "We had to reduce the amount of home-based care for the elderly and the disabled," Amundson said, and day-care aid also has been cut.
* Alexandria. The city cut back companion care, day care and the sheltered employment program that provides employment opportunities for handicapped people, said James L. Leach, the city's deputy director of social services.
* Prince William. Funding for group homes for the handicapped, sheltered workshops and developmental programs for mentally retarded persons was reduced, according to Perez. As in other counties, staff was reduced. "Our ability to provide services diminished about 10 percent," he said.
* Loudoun. Companion care is "where we feel the federal cut the most," Eamich said.
* Arlington. One of two transportation workers, who often took people who could not drive to the doctor, was eliminated but other private groups and social workers apparently met most remaining transportation needs. The county also reduced staffing for the Madison Center, which provides day care for elderly persons and for outreach to low-income people.
Despite the cutbacks, and with still more expected, local officials believe that so far people have found ways to manage.
"It's affected the quality of life rather than the capacity to live," said Lynda N. Eubank, assistant division chief in the Arlington human resources department.
"People are still making it," said Alexandria's Leach. "I don't have destitution at our front door."
"It appears that most of the ADC clients removed from the rolls are living in some way without the ADC monthly payment," the Arlington report concludes. People dropped from ADC were likely to live more frugally, to move in with relatives or even to leave Arlington, according to the county report.
Still, the Arlington report concedes, the cutbacks have caused problems. "Some clients have not been able to manage with reduced public assistance benefits," the report concluded.
Despite efforts by local governments to meet gaps in federal aid, several local officials predicted that local governments do not have the resources to absorb further federal cutbacks.
Arlington's Wasserman said the county has set aside contingency funds to cover federal cuts and other revenue shortfalls. " But I've taken the position of not allowing the federal and the state government to pass along fiscal burdens to Arlington in the future ," he said.
In the end, Wasserman said, communities will have to find more creative ways to help the poor.
"The responsibility for dealing with these problems," he said, "has got to fall on the community as a whole."