State governments endured many of the 1981 cuts and realignments in federal block grants without the wholesale elimination of programs that previously received special funding, the General Accounting Office reported yesterday.
More than 80 categorical grants, comprising a relatively small share of federal aid to state and local governments, were consolidated into nine more general ones and overall funding was reduced.
But the GAO found that states used one-time carryover funds from earlier grants, unexpected federal revenues from an emergency jobs appropriation and some of their own money to maintain services.
In the future, these fund sources are not likely to be available, the report said. Then will come the real test for the block grant program, which this year will provide about $6.8 billion for supplementary programs ranging from social services, education and community services to maternal and child health, alcohol and drug abuse and energy assistance for the poor.
"Although federal funding for the block grants stabilized during 1983 and 1984, states are likely to be confronted with rising program costs and increased demands for services," the report concluded. "As a result, the next few years will be pivotal ones for the block grant programs and the people they serve . . . . "
Yesterday's report, the latest in a series done at the request of members of Congress, came as organizations representing the nation's governors and state legislators stepped up their efforts to ward off further cuts in federal assistance as proposed in President Reagan's 1986 budget.
Reagan's proposed budget for next year would reduce aid to state and local governments by $11 billion, including cuts in block grants, transit subsidies, general revenue sharing and Medicaid.
"The cuts do not merely change the funding source for existing programs -- they spell elimination of many important services that states won't be able to pick up," Kansas Gov. John Carlin (D), chairman of the National Governors' Association, said in the organization's latest newsletter.
Tennessee House Deputy Speaker John T. Bragg, president of the National Conference of State Legislatures, said states were once again being asked to assume "a disproportionate share" of the budget cuts.
"They have carried the water once and are now being penalized for sound fiscal practices," Bragg said, "while federal budget deficits have grown to over $200 billion annually."
A central focus of Reagan's efforts to cut aid to state and local governments is the contention that the financially strapped federal government, facing potential budget deficits of about $200 billion a year for the rest of the decade, can no longer afford such assistance.
The states, counties and cities can afford it, administration officials argue. They point to a Treasury Department estimate that projects a cumulative budget surplus of $86.5 billion in state and local coffers by 1989.
Carlin noted in yesterday's statement that even though states alone will have about $5.3 billion on hand when their 1985 fiscal year ends June 30, that amount is barely more than half of what many municipal finance experts say should be available to absorb unforeseen costs.
The GAO report found that most programs receiving targeted funding under the old system continued to receive money under the new, but funding patterns varied among programs and from state to state.
In the area of social services, for example, states generally gave higher priority to adult and child protective services, adoption and foster care, home-based service, family planning and employment and education and training, the report found.
Few social services were eliminated, the GAO found. But in several instances, states changed the criteria for determining eligibility. The most frequently reported change was tighter eligibility standards for day care services.