From Children's Hospital, they came to protest cuts in the Medicaid insurance program for the poor. From the Whitman-Walker Clinic, they came to argue for increased funds for AIDS services. From the National Health Care Foundation for the Deaf, they came to stop reductions in the budget for the disabled.
By the dozens, groups representing virtually every kind of person suffering from misery or disease in the city descended on the District Building yesterday to decry Mayor Marion Barry's proposed 1989 human services budget, a document that calls for holding the line or cutting back some of the programs that serve primarily the poor.
Contrasting the mayor's proposed $4 million cut in Medicaid financing with the continuing high rate of infant mortality in the city, Dr. Donald Delaney of Children's Hospital asked members of the D.C. Council's Human Services Committee: "How can we in good conscience make reductions in those programs which, in some instances, represent the only linkage to health care services for our poorest citizens?"
The occasion for the plea was a committee hearing called yesterday to solicit public comments on Barry's proposed $616.5 million budget for the Department of Human Services.
Senior officials in the department are scheduled to testify this morning on the budget, which calls for a $37.8 million increase over this year.
Typically at such budget hearings, the public comments come after the administration's testimony, but committee Chairman H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), who is running for reelection this year, made a point of telling the audience that he was interested in hearing their views first.
And for the most part, Crawford and other council members appeared receptive to the comments, which ranged in topic from cuts in programs for the disabled and mentally ill to no growth in funding for AIDS services and what some termed inadequate funding for home health care and day care.
"I have some extreme difficulty with the budget as it was submitted to us," Crawford said at one point.
The hearing brought forth an extraordinary display of community interest in the budget process, as hundreds of citizens and activists packed the council chambers, spilling out into the hall and forcing many people to sit in an adjacent room to listen to the testimony over loudspeakers. In all, more than 90 groups were scheduled to testify.
In the crowd were several people in wheelchairs, as well as people sporting buttons such as "Save Our Services" or "I'm for a Healthy Medicaid Program." Barbara Mangum of the National Health Care Foundation for the Deaf testified in sign language as an associate translated for the committee.
Representatives of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, which provides treatment services to AIDS patients, erected a huge mural with obituaries of many of the people who have died of AIDS in the last year.
The representatives said the mayor's proposal to keep 1989 funding for AIDS services at 1988 levels was inadequate given the escalating numbers of AIDS patients in the city. Judith Johnson, director of the Green Door program for the mentally ill, told the committee that the budget does not provide the financing necessary to reduce the numbers of institutionalized patients and move them into community facilities.
Representatives of District hospitals, meanwhile, criticized the government for backtracking on an agreement to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates by 3 percent and said that underbudgeting of the insurance program threatens health care access for the poor.