Mayor Marion Barry's transition task force examining the city's massive Department of Human Services has recommended sharply curtailing eligibility for some services and charging fees for others -- changes that would affect thousands of Washingtonians -- in an effort to cut costs and streamline the agency's operations.
The task force concluded that the city could save $47.5 million annually and increase revenues by nearly $40 million by stiffening eligibility requirements for many benefits, including emergency financial assistance and shelter, and by making some citizens pay for services they now receive free, such as day care and health screening.
"The District, like many other jurisdictions, is experiencing a surge in demand for its services at the same time that inflation is eroding the purchasing power of the government," the report states. "The challenge that faces the District . . . is doing more with less."
DHS, the city government's largest agency, this year will spend about $550 million of the total $1.8 billion operating budget.
The report suggests that the city loses millions of dollars because its eligibility requirements are too loosely defined and its programs are not monitored closely enough.
The report recommends eliminating a cash assistance program started only this year to help the working poor who lost their federal welfare benefits; stiffening the eligibility requirements for free day care; limiting to six months the length of time persons can collect general public assistance; collecting a fee from those who spend more than one night at a city-run emergency shelter, and freezing maximum weekly unemployment benefits at their current level.
It also suggests that citizens be required to pay, according to a sliding scale, for such health services as venereal disease treatment, immunizations and screening for hypertension, sickle cell anemia, drug addiction and lead poisoning. The city currently is prohibited from charging for such "public interest" services.
The report recommends closing Cedar Knoll, the city's minimum security detention facility for juvenile offenders, and placing the juveniles in other juvenile facilities or in community-based homes. It also calls for closing the city's clinic for police officers and firefighters.
Mayor Barry, who a spokeswoman said has had a copy of the task force report since Nov. 19, declined to comment on it yesterday.
Barry's press secretary, Annette Samuels, said that not all of the recommendations in the task force report may be in the final report to the mayor from the transition team's overall steering committee.
The final report, which will include recommendations on improving operations at a number of city agencies, was scheduled to be transmitted to the mayor yesterday, Samuels said. She said its recommendations will not be made public until Barry decides which ones he will accept. Barry is expected to announce his decisions in about two weeks.
James Buford, the outgoing DHS director who served as chairman of the human services task force, also declined to comment yesterday on the recommendations.
In a preamble explaining the philosophy of the task force, members said the report was "premised on the notion that human services are not an end in themselves, but a means of assisting certain individuals to become self-sufficient or self-supporting."
"They didn't set out to drastically cut eligibility," said Dennis Andrulis, who represented former U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare secretary Joseph Califano, one of the task force members, at the committee meetings. "They did say we've got to look at costs. We can't allow them to keep spiraling."
The rationale for limiting general public assistance benefits, according to the report, is that this program is supposed to help people who are temporarily unable to work or who are disabled and awaiting approval of their federal benefits. But, says the report, "It has become the practice for persons to remain long-term recipients with such incapacities as hypertension and chronic back pains."
The task force said the city must beef up its laws for collecting court-ordered child-support payments from parents who are delinquent in making those payments. The report says that every month 75 percent of all absent parents fail to make their payments and that $12 million in payments are outstanding.
The report suggests that the city use "new tools" in cracking down on these parents, including denying them automobile registration and tags or "booting" their cars.
The report also recommends restricting the number of times any one family can stay for an extended period at one of the city's shelter facilities for the temporarily homeless. Families in the District shelters currently stay an average of 45 days.
The report states that shelter care for those families who "move to the District without resources . . . should be limited to the time needed to arrange for a transportation fund for these families to return to their point of origin."