He pursed his lips as if eager to speak, but the words came slowly as 29-year-old Dale Caudell struggled to explain why his speech therapy program was axed in December.
"No . . . no money," said Caudell, a Down syndrome victim who stuttered through the simple rationale for Prince George's County's round of budget cuts last month.
In an effort to offset a $70 million deficit, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening laid off 190 employees and eliminated 649 vacant positions, and mandated other cost-saving measures such as reducing travel and postponing purchases.
The county's Health Department was hit hard by the cuts, limiting services to more than 500 disabled residents.
Health officials cut 59 positions in a move that scaled down some department staffs and eliminated other divisions altogether, such as offices that provide speech therapy, hearing tests and physical and occupational therapy.
For Caudell, who was on a waiting list for more than two years before he began receiving speech therapy last August, the budget cuts have severed an opportunity to hone a skill most people take for granted.
The ability to express his thoughts and ask and answer questions might lead to a better job and more independent life, Caudell explained in an interview that was punctuated by persistent stuttering and long, intermittent periods of silence.
Communication is a struggle for Caudell. At times when he is straining to speak, Caudell will strike the back of his head with his palm as if trying to physically eject a thought.
His speech had begun to improve during his five months of therapy, said Caudell's mother, Eleanor.
"His self-esteem was beginning to build and he was having an easier time of it. But in the month since his therapy ended his speech has gone back to where it was."
Caudell lives with four other disabled men in a group home in Bowie run by the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute, and he works five days a week at a vocational program for disabled county residents.
His family is trying to find a private therapist to pick up where the county program left off.
Caudell said his fixed income will not cover private therapy, which runs from $25 to $50 a session.
For now, Caudell tries to work on some of the exercises he learned in therapy with his housemates, things like word games and breathing exercises.
Though Caudell explains that his therapy was cut because of a lack of funds, his mother insists that it is more a matter of priorities.
"I look around at all the stuff that they manage to find money for in this county, things like big buildings and fancy parties," Eleanor Caudell said.
"It makes me wonder how they can justify taking services from some of the neediest people."