For Margie Proctor, a social service worker with five young sons, and Dorothy Burnett, a night nurse's aide with six children, Tuesday is a day of reckoning, and they're prepared for the worst.
That's when the D.C. City Council faces up to a thorny political issue by giving final approval to a plan to bring the city's welfare laws into compliance with new, stringent Reagan administration policy and spending guidelines.
At stake for Proctor, 36, and Burnett, 41, is Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits that have supplemented their modest incomes and provided a cushion as they struggle for financial independence.
They are among the 3,500 to 3,900 working-poor families that will lose all or part of their AFDC payments, beginning next month, unless the City Council and Mayor Marion Barry can devise a scheme for maintaining their current levels of assistance without violating President Reagan's guidelines and incurring federal sanctions.
"We have gotten partly off the welfare rolls, we're on the job rolls, so why won't they give us a chance?" Proctor said last week during an interview at the Parent Child Center Inc., 2002 14th St. NW, where she works to help support her children who range in age from 13 months to 17 years.
"If I can't find a second part-time job, what will I do?" she said. "Once he Reagan makes the cuts, he doesn't care if my children have a roof over their heads, food in their mouths, clothes on their backs or an education. But my children are as important as his."
Burnett, who lives in a small, two-bedroom brick house at 1331 Ridge Place SE, switched from working days to nights a year ago when two of her teen-aged children began having trouble in school and run-ins with the police. Burnett worries that she will have no time to spend with her children if she is forced to take a second job to make ends meet.
She also complained that the threatened cutbacks in AFDC will pull the rug out from under her, just when she is getting on her feet financially and able to afford a few luxuries.
"I'm somebody who has been without for a long time, and I feel it's a time in my life when I can sit back and say I'm accomplishing something," she said while sitting in her living room last week, patting the top of a new color TV set. "And then along comes Ronald Reagan, and he's going to see that I'm not going to keep it."
The modest economic advancement made by poor, unmarried working mothers such as Burnett and Proctor is the very reason they now are viewed by federal authorities as prime targets for spending cutbacks. Although many of them have experienced extreme hardship in holding down jobs and raising their families, their financial condition no longer seems desperate enough, in the eyes of the Reagan administration, to justify continued AFDC payments.
Burnett, for instance, said she receives $650 a month in salary from her nursing job, $235 a month in AFDC benefits, and $197 a month in food stamps, for a total of $1,082. Proctor said she receives $570 a month in salary (after taxes) from the Parent Child Center, $112 a month in AFDC payments and $115 a month in food stamps, for a total of about $800.
"I know there's a lot of people on welfare abusing it," Burnett said. "But if they would only come out and see some of the problems . . . .I'm a fighter. I'm not going to let the system whip me. I'll go out and get another job."
As she spoke, several of her children did their homework on the dining room table or played elsewhere in the house. "I want them to have better than I had," she said. "That's the main thing. I keep going for them. I want them to keep on their schooling."
In revising the city's welfare program, Barry and the council agreed to spend additional local funds to offset federal cuts in welfare payments for needy women pregnant with their first child; 18-to-20-year-olds who are attending school, and principal wage earners out of work because of a strike.
Barry insisted, however, that there aren't sufficient funds in the current budget to offset federal cuts in AFDC payments for working poor families.
The council disagreed and voted overwhelmingly on Nov. 24 to spend $5 million during the current fiscal year to maintain the present level of AFDC benefits for the working poor. The additional spending was approved as a rider to the bill revising the city's AFDC law.
City Council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), chief sponsor of the amendment, claimed that the additional funds could be squeezed out of the current budget -- an assertion disputed by Barry and his budget experts.
The council last Tuesday postponed final action on the proposed legislation after being warned by Barry and officials of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of serious technical flaws in the proposal.
Barry claimed that Clarke's amendment was unworkable and seemingly flouted Reagan's edict to reduce overall AFDC benefits for working-poor families. The mayor and his aides warned that the federal government might retaliate by cutting off all welfare assistance for those recipients, including Medicaid.
"It is even possible that we would open the city to charges of non-conformity for the entire AFDC program, jeopardizing thereby the total federal AFDC reimbursement of more than $50 million in fiscal 1982," said James A. Buford, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services.
Barry urged the council to adopt an alternative plan to offset a portion of the cuts in AFDC by offering the working-poor families an additional $2 million in assistance to pay their heating and utility bills.
The mayor said this indirect approach would not be in conflict with Reagan's new guideline, since energy assistance is not counted as income in determining a family's eligibility for AFDC, food stamps or Medicaid.
Barry admitted there isn't enough money in the budget even for his scaled-back approach. The city would have to request supplemental authority from Congress next year to raise and spend the additional $2 million, he said.
With time running out, representatives of the mayor and the council huddled late last week to try to work out a compromise. One council source said the conferees are leaning towards Barry's approach.
A coalition of community-based groups that work with the poor last week urged the council to stand by Clarke's amendment.
"Unless the council votes to earmark $5 million to continue the incentive payments to these families, any hopes they might have had of eventually working themselves off the welfare rolls will be dashed," the coalition said in a statement.
Vera Johnson, a supervisor at the Parent Child Center, a social service agency, believes that cutbacks in the AFDC program, coupled with a sharp reduction in subsidized day-care facilities and job training, might reverse progress made in recent years to wean welfare recipients off the rolls.
"I think there will be a lot more people applying for public assistance as a result," Johnson said. "It won't make any sense to go out and try to find a job and struggle . . . . They'll just stay at home."