The stepped toward the microphone, an ex-welfare mother nervously facing state bureaucrats pondering program cuts at a public hearing. Each morning, Charlene Scott drops her son at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Care Center on the way to Grady Hospital, where she works as a $4.75-an-hour cashier.
At night, she studies to become an emergency medical technician at a local trade school. She lives with her mother to save money. If she had to pay $35 to $50 a week for commercial child care, instead of her $7 sliding fee for the federally subsidized program, she would be back on welfare or broke.
"I was on welfare one year," said Scott, 26, a single mother of two. "But I've been happy to get a job and keep a job. There's someone to watch my kids so I can work. They get two free meals. It helps a lot."
She fumbled her notes, confessed to a case of nerves, then made her plea: "There are a lot of single mothers who need Title 20. Please make it a priority."
Scott was among 100 social service advocates and recipients here in Atlanta who lobbied beleaguered state officials this week to continue specific social service programs. It is a process being repeated, with variations, across the country as states try to live with diminished resources because of the recession and federal cutbacks in money for some social programs.
"If you look at the state of funding in Georgia and elsewhere, there won't be more money for human services," said James Ledbetter, commissioner of the $1 billion Department of Human Resources, the state's umbrella social service agency, which gets half its funding from Washington. In future years, "there won't be enough money to make up for the loss of federal funds. We're going to have to do less. We face very difficult choices."
Last year, Scott's day care center had to fire three teacher's aides to handle the same 72 children. The waiting list has grown. The money has not. "We are worried," said day care director Brunetta Lucas.
Next year, Georgia expects $113.5 million in federal funds for seven block grants for human services. That's down from $144 million last year.
To keep up services, DHR shifted some discretionary block grant money from one program to another. A $250,000 maternity program for high-risk mothers had to go. Ghetto families aren't warned about the dangers of lead-based paint poisoning any longer. Cuts were minimal.
Yet critics say that DHR should try harder to get the legislature to make up the shortfall in federal funds rather than offering the legislature a skin-and-bones budget. "I'm going to cry if I hear one more time we're going to have to do more with less," said Penelope Jacks, an antipoverty advocate. "A $194-a-month AFDC aid to families with dependent children payment for a family of three is embarrassing. DHR should lobby for the needs of its citizens."
Others argue that a high-profile DHR would stir resentment against the poor, forcing more cuts. Ledbetter, who draws praise as a sensitive bureaucrat for holding 15 unprecedented block grant hearings around the state, promised to keep their concerns in mind.
Still, one critic called the DHR heartless for transferring $1.6 million from low-income energy assistance, which helps the poor pay for heat, to maternity and child health care. In response, Dotty Roach, assistant DHR budget director, says that cutting services "integrated into the daily lives of people" -- like day care and meals for the elderly -- would be more "detrimental" than cutting a one-time energy check for $100.
Earlier this month, Gov. George Busbee warned newly elected governors that virtually all federal aid to states and cities faces extinction unless Congress cuts politically sensitive entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Clark Stevens, Georgia budget director and president of the National Association of Budget Officers, predicted that any midyear congressional cuts could devastate states whose budgets have already incorporated projected federal funding at current levels. Most state legislatures set budgets six months ahead of Washington.
Social programs also face the threat of a no-tax-increase pledge from Gov.-elect Joe Frank Harris. But Washington holds the sharpest ax, said Stevens in an interview. If Washington cuts 10 percent, Georgia will have to cut 20 percent because the slicing would come six months into the budget year.
"We're in a tenuous situation if they try to make those cuts this year," he said. "If they cut Title 20 money for things like day care, those areas would have to be cut back. If they wait until next year, we have a shot at dealing with it. We can't manufacture funds. If they hit us hard, we'll have to hit our programs hard."