Poor Hit Hard By Cuts

$450 Million Plan Also Slashes Hcc Aid

October 02, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

The poor and those already in need of health and social services as a result of the recession are among the county residents hardest hit by the $450 million cut Gov. William Donald Schaefer plans to make inthe state budget.

The cuts, announced yesterday, would take effect Nov. 1. The county stands to lose about $4 million -- $1.2 million in state aid to Howard Community College, $500,000 in aid to the county public health service and $2.2 million in other revenue.

Social services director Samuel W. Marshall said that while his agency wouldn't lose money directly, elimination of the state's general public assistance program would affect 80 to 85 adults ineligible for other kinds of help.

Dr. Joyce Boyd, the county public health officer, said she would have to lay off 20 people -- 12 percent of heralready depleted staff.

Boyd, whose budget would be slashed $500,000, must decide by the middle of next week which "case formula" services to reduce or eliminate in order to make the 25 percent cut Schaefer requires. Case formula services include environmental health, mental health, maternity care, family planning, communicable diseases and child health.

"At this point, I don't know where the cuts will be," Boyd said. "We'll probably find it very hard to cut maternity services since we are now the only low-income maternity group in the county." Boyd said she may not be able to keep the nutrition or social work aspects of the program, however.

Boyd had previously eliminated some family planning and child health services.

"Most of our clients are poor, very needy and need a lot of services, but we don't have other services available for the most part. It's really a sad timefor public health in Maryland."

Boyd, who has been a public health professional for 16 years, said she has never seen cuts this deep. "We heard rumors three weeks ago," she said. "But we had no idea as to the actual amounts. For the most part, we've been spared until now."

The people who would be laid off will be given a 90-day notice "sometime toward the end of the month," she said.

Marshall said theelimination of the general public assistance program would not result in any more layoffs to his staff, but may add to its already increased caseload.

The 80 to 85 county residents getting $204 a month in public assistance "will come back into the system," Marshall said, as people needing medical assistance, emergency assistance or food stamps, or as homeless people.

People losing state assistance will be counseled and offered whatever solutions may be available, Marshallsaid. "We'll use whatever county resources are available, but we don't know how much more is available."

Meanwhile, Marshall said, hisstaff will be processing applications of people now getting public assistance to determine eligibility for other programs.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker said that even though services that would be lost are "very vital, we don't have the funds to pick them up. Hopefully, volunteers will step in and help out."

Volunteers can do little, however, about what Ecker called an especially hard hit to Howard County Community College. College president Dwight A. Burrill was in Annapolis getting a briefing on the $1.2 million cut and could not bereached for comment.

The remaining $2.2 million in state aid cut from the county would affect the county budget directly, with 25 percent reductions in state aid to police, the county portion of the property tax, the county share of the alcohol and tobacco tax, the countyportion of abandoned property and the county share of property tax credits.

In addition to the most recent cuts, a $3 million loss in the fiscal 1991 budget and other revenue losses expected this year will lead to a $10 million to $12 million shortfall in this fiscal year's budget, Ecker said. He said does not anticipate laying off any more employees. Ecker cut 40 employees from the county payroll in April.

What he has done to meet the shortfall, Ecker said, is freeze positions, limit travel, refinance some of the county's debt and ask department heads to cut their budgets by an average of 5 percent.

TheSchaefer cuts did not come as a surprise, Ecker said, because his budget analysts have been more pessimistic than state analysts.

The $10 million to $12 million shortfall and his plans to meet it is a "worst-case scenario" Ecker said. He said he does not expect the economy to deteriorate, but is nonetheless concerned.

Budget director Raymond S. Wacks said the county's loss of state income tax revenue maybecome a bigger problem than the loss of state aid.

The revenue was up 8 percent for April and May, making it appear that perhaps the economy had turned around, Wacks said. But in June, income tax revenue was .5 percent below what it had been the previous June; the year-to-date June 15 figures were down 33 percent from the previous year. Wacks said he continues to expect a "flat economy and slow recovery."

Ecker, looking ahead to next year's budget, said, "There is only one place to go to get more money -- the property tax."

Despite laying off employees and eliminating raises, including the 6 percent increase in the teachers' contract, Ecker had to raise property taxes 14cents this year to finance a "bare bones" budget.

He said he doesnot want to raise it higher.

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