When D.C. Mayor Marion Barry decided to boost spending next year for public safety and conspicuous social problems such as homelessness, he put a range of human service programs on the chopping block.
The Barry administration, announcing its proposed fiscal 1989 budget this week, recommended reductions in spending for drug treatment-related services and traditional programs that serve the poor, including Medicaid, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, programs for the mentally retarded and D.C. General, the city's public hospital.
Forced in some cases to choose between public safety and human services, Barry decided to make human services the centerpiece of an effort to streamline government spending, according to the budget documents. In his proposed $2.8 billion fiscal 1989 operating budget, the mayor called for nearly twice as much new spending in public safety as in human support programs.
The District's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Administration, despite reports that 70 percent of people arrested in the District now test positive for drugs, would receive an increase of only $226,000. The city projects no increases in drug treatment clients, and ADASA's Bureau of Drug Treatment Services would have $493,000 of its funds transferred to other areas.
"It wasn't tough to allocate money for the homeless because the homeless need some place to sleep," Barry said yesterday. "The toughest decision in putting the budget together was having to cut out $200 million in requests for other programs."
In addition to the increases in public safety spending, there were increases in selected human service areas, including $11 million more for youth programs, $2.8 million to establish a new AIDS Activities Office and a total of $13.5 million more for homelessness.
To implement a comprehensive plan for the homeless, Barry would transfer $9.1 million from other human service programs, including $1.7 million from a program that provides community-based services for the mentally retarded.
"They just blew us away," Vince Gray, executive director of the D.C. Association for Retarded Citizens, said of the shift in funds. "One can conclude from looking at this budget that people with disabilities are no longer important. There is a clear shift in priorities."
Overall, public safety would receive $742 million, up $87 million from the approved 1988 budget; human support programs would also get $741.9 million, up $46 million.
Some of Barry's new budget priorities reflect national trends in spending. Steve Gold, a spokesman for the National Conference of State Legislators, said that state spending on corrections is growing faster than any other major category of spending because, like the District, most of the states are under court orders to reduce prison crowding.
Karen M. Benker, research director at the National Association of State Budget Offficers, said the trend has been for states to "hold the line" on new initiatives and focus more on increasing education and economic development spending, rather than human service programs.
Barry's approach to setting priorities is drawing criticism fromsome groups that fear he is employing stopgap measures rather than developing long-range solutions to the city's social problems. Some say, for example, that the city "It wasn't tough to allocate money for the homeless because the homeless need some place to sleep."
-- Mayor Marion Barry
spends too little on developing new housing while maintaining costly emergency shelters that do little to curb homelessness.
"If they're shifting funds and not bringing in more money from the private sector or the federal goverment, then they are just sort of responding to whoever is yelling the loudest," said Jim Dickerson, a member of the mayor's homeless coordinating council.
"Either the city is committed to having solution-oriented programs or we're going to see a very fragmented approach to dealing with the fundamental problems of homelessness and poverty," he said.
Advocates also take issue with the way program cuts are justified in the mayor's budget documents, which have been submitted to the D.C. Council for review. Such justifications include projected declines in program participation and management improvements.
Marilou King, chairman of the D.C. General Hospital Commission, said the hospital would need a $6 million increase over Barry's proposed budget "to maintain the services that we have now."
King said Barry's proposal, which calls for a cut of $289,000, incorrectly assumes that the hospital could recover more of its costs from Medicaid, Medicare, Blue Cross-Blue Shield and other insurance programs.
Barry's proposed $2.2 million reduction in Medicaid, meanwhile, may mean that poor people who are not receiving medical treatment may not get health care, said Joan Lewis, a spokesman for the D.C. Hospital Association.
She also questioned the city's projection that Medicaid recipients will decline by 5,000 in fiscal 1989, when health care professionals are trying to increase participation by adding AIDS patients and pregnant women and children who are below the poverty level but do not receive public assistance.
"One of the leading problems in the District is health care for the indigent," said Lewis. "We think that with a cut in Medicaid, the size of the indigent population without health care can do nothing but grow."
The Aid to Families With Dependent Children program is another instance in which a projected decline in participation has been used to justify a cut, of $2.3 million. For welfare recipients, the proposed average monthly benefit payment of $354, which includes federal matching funds, is a fraction of the District's established "standard of need" -- $870 a month for a family of four.Staff writer Michael Abramowitz contributed to this report.