Mayor Marion Barry's budget experts are considering eliminating an $11.4 million general public assistance program that provides financial aid to D.C. residents out of work because of temporary illness or injury, an administration source confirmed yesterday.
The cutback, which was recommended by the mayor's transition task force on human services, would affect directly about 2,500 unemployed persons a month who do not qualify for other forms of public assistance.
Barry and his budget director, Gladys W. Mack, declined yesterday to confirm or deny that the program is a target for cutbacks next year. "I'm just looking," the mayor said.
City Council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), chairman of the Human Services Committee, said yesterday that she would oppose efforts to eliminate the program or to cut off benefits to recipients after six months, another proposal recommended by the mayor's task force.
"I don't know what is supposed to happen to people when there are no jobs and no public support," Shackleton said. "The private sector certainly can't pick them up. The elderly especially are very vulnerable."
The general public assistance program, which is funded entirely with local revenues, was designed primarily to help adults who cannot find work because of temporary disabilities .
The program also provides an additional $1.8 million annually in short-term assistance to elderly or disabled persons whose applications for federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are pending. Those funds would not be affected by the proposed cutback, according to the Barry administration source.
The average recipient remains in the general public assistance program for about eight months and receives an average of $2,000 during that period, according to the transition task force report.
However, the transition team found that many people who applied for the benefits may have been able to find jobs, and that some clients remained on the program for months or years without seeking medical treatment for their complaints. Medical care is not required by the program.