In Washington, the resident geniuses of the hour work with numbers. The numbers are cold and impersonal. They grow and shrink with the ease of a pencil stroke. The numbers have no faces.
Georgianna Lucero, a clerk-typist on the west side of Denver, knows all about the numbers. She knows they'll probably mean she'll lose the only job she's ever been able to hold. Virgil Burnett, an unemployed Chrysley assembly line worker from Kokomo, Ind., knows about the numbers.He thinks they'll mean he'll have to sell his house, pack up his wife and two kids and head west to look for work.
George Ainger, a dairy farmer from Harvard, Ill., knows about the numbers. He says they'll mean he'll have to milk more cows to make ends meet. For Kenneth Caldwell, superientendent of schools in Perry County, Ky., the numbers are devastating.
"I don't see us surviving in this part of the country," he said yesterday from his office in Hazard. "We're already sinking with cuts from the state. It's like Reagan is trying a rock around our leg and throwing us into the quicksand."
In Washington, such talk is dismissed as the selfish cries of "the special interests," people who don't have the best interest of the country at heart. But people most affected by the cuts in President Reagan's budget don't look at them in the same way. For them, cuts are very personal. They strike at the way they lead their everyday lives and feed their families. This story is a collection of their snapshots, a photo album if you will, compiled from reports by Washington Post correspondents across the country.
When you think of the little people likely to suffer from budget cuts, you don't think of this woman. Her name is Grace Kelly -- "like the actress-princess, except I got there first" -- and she is a 73-year-old former Gibson Girl, grandmother and college student. Although literally impoverished, she manages a comfortable, if spartan existence. At least she has until now.
"I've lived many, many years on a limited income," she says, "and I've learned how."
Kelly lives entirely off Social Security, and her year income of $5,196 falls well below the poverty line in New York. In 1976, while struggling to pay a $210 in rent and heating bills for a six-room apartment in Staten Island, she learned about the federal assistance program known as Section VIII, under which people earning 80 percent or less of the national median income are eligible for help with the rent.
She applied, and 2 1/2 years ago the New York City Housing Authority helped her find a nice little apartment renting for $298 a month in Brooklyn's Bay Ridge section, for which she pays $97.58 a month (including utilities).
Now the administration has proposed to gradually increase the maximum allowable rent contributions paid by tenants living in federal subsidized housing from 25 to 30 percent of their adjusted income over the next five years.
Kelly has managed to survive so far by keeping to a strict budget. Before depositing her $433 Social Security check each month, she deducts the rent and the phone bill, which comes to about $15.
The rest of her budget goes for food -- she can no longer afford meat, but lives on fruit and vegetables -- dry cleaning, clothing ("never anything new, just what I can pick up at thrift shops and rummage sales") and her education. For the past few years, Kelly has been taking courses at Hunter College.
Kelly acknowledges that the increase she would experience in the first year of the proposed budget cut -- slightly more than $4 a month -- will not in itself make a drastic difference in her life. She considers the added expenses "just another dent in the battered lifestyles of middle- and lower-income people. My rent is going up, my phone bill, Medicare, food prices."
Ralph Hamilton is a thin, intense young man, still trying to recover from the physical and mental scars of the Vietnam war. An outreach center in Phoenix, set up for Vietnam veterans like him, has been a focal point in his life in recent years.
"The vets center was like a magic lantern from heaven for me," he said in his living room yesterday. "It allowed me to diffuse my situation and use my skills to benefit other vets who've experienced similar problems. It's a place people can come to get an explanation of their behavior.
"The centers are the debriefing of Vietnam veterans that never took place by the military. It's the only focal point that enables a vet to cope with society."
But Reagan administration has proposed reducing the federal support for such centers. To Hamilton, it is yet another sign of the nation's ambivialence toward the Vietnam war.
"It's a signal to those veterans who have begun to open up that America doesn't care," he said angrily.
There is little in Barbara's life that could be called cheerful. She lives alone in a rooming house and works part-time running a photocopy machine at a Boston hospital. At 45, she has suffered most of her adult life from chronic depression, for which she regularly sees a psychiatrist and takes medication.
In that bleak picture, there is something that Barbara (who asked that her last name not be used in this article) describes as "idyllic": the federal Medicaid program. Through it she has for the past 3 1/2 years been able to avail herself of a psychiatrist and neurologist at Boston's modern and prestigious Beth Israel Hospital, one of the dozen Harvard University teaching hospitals in the city's internationally known medical district.
The hospital is convenient to her room, and the bill -- $20 a month for drugs -- is paid by Medicaid. A former patient in a state psychiatric hospital, Barbara sees "a tremendous difference" between her care there and that at Beth Israel.
But Barbara is fearful that her treatment might change as a result of Medicaid cost controls that may be imposed by both the Reagan administration and Massachusetts Gov. Edward J. King.
"They say they're going to be compassionate, but with so many cuts you start to wonder," she says.
Under the Massachusetts plan, Medicaid patients like Barbara would no longer be able to choose their own doctor and have the state pick up the tab. Instead, they would be part of a prepayment plan. An insurance company would likely set up a consortium of doctors, hospitals and nursing homes to provide Medicaid care. Barbara would likely no longer go to Beth Israel but instead to a designated "provider."
"There's no field like psychiatry where it's been so clear that the poor go to one place and the rich to another," she says. "I wouldn't want to see that again." She vividly recalls her stay in public mental hospitals. "It's scary if you get a doctor with the wrong attitude. They can treat you like you're hopeless."
In poor, predominately black south central Los Angeles, Ronald Reagan's honeymoon is not over. It just never began. The day after last November's election an attorney in the Watts office of the federally funded Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles found a client crying.
"Why are you crying?" he asked.
"Because that man is in the White House.That man's gonna thin the soup so there's nothin' but water left for us folks down here."
With 93 legal aid service offices, California gets the largest slice of the national legal aid pie. The Reagan administration has proposed ending funding for these agencies through the Legal Services Corp.The largest single category of cases such offices handle involve landlord-tenant disputes.
The case of Frances Watkins, 38, is typical. Her landlord wants $350 a month for the small two-bedroom Watts apartment she shares with her three children.
The front yard is cracked concrete decorated with an industrial-size trash bin that does not look out of place in front of a building whose industrial green paint job is covered with graffiti. The only heat in the apartment comes from the stove. Many of the closets and cabinets are without doors. In the kitchen, thre are empty holes were drawers should be.
For almost a year the landlord made promises but no repairs. So Watkins and two of her neighbors, following the advice of a legal aid lawyer, started a rent strike that is legal and doesn't subject them to eviction.
"If it weren't for legal aid," says Watkins, "we'd probably be sittin' out on the streets. We can't afford no great big expensive lawyers. Elena [her legal aid attorney] has been handlin' the case since November. Ain't no way in the world I can afford to pay for that."
The snapshots blur together. People are resilient. They plot their survival, making adjustments here and there. In Austin, Tex., Vivian Bauhof, head of the local school lunch program, estimates she will have to increase the cost of lunch for 32,500 kids by about 35 or 40 cents a meal because of the budget cuts. "It's really going to challenge us to stay in business," she says.
In Denver, Georgianna Lucero, 23, hopes her CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) job will last long enough that she can develop skills to find a new job. Nine years ago, she was diagnosed by doctors as schizophrenic, and the job has been a godsend for her. "A person, when they're mentally ill, it's hard to keep clean, it's hard to go outside, hard to hold a job," she said yesterday, her eyes self-consciously downcast. "You realize you look kind of spaced out. . . . You can feel negativism from people."
In Harvard, Ill., dairy farmer George Ainger is worried that he will be in trouble if Reagan's proposed cuts in dairy support prices are approved by Congress.
"If they rewrite the farm bill they better cut the rest of it [government spending] or we'll all go out of business," said Ainger, 49. "Even I couldn't ride that one out."
He said his only choice would be to milk more cows to meet fixed expenses. The cutback in supports is designed to cause the opposite. Though the price may drop, "it's the farmer's tendency to produce more to make up the difference," said Ainger. "Some say the farmer is his own worst enemy."