Some patients who are critically ill take their medicine and do what they can to buy time until a cure can be found.

Now, Department of Human Services officials find themselves in a similar position. They are juggling programs, hoping to stave off cuts to welfare recipients until lawmakers can come to their rescue."We have high hopes of making it to January without grant reductions," said Norman G. Angus, director of Human Services. "Then we'll ask for a supplemental to carry us through. That's our approach. We haven't been able to come up with enough money to get us through the year. No way. But if we can buy a little time . . . "

Department officials asked legislators to approve a cost-of-living increase for Aid to Families with Dependent Children. The grants, even when combined with food stamps, leave families well below federal poverty guidelines. And inflation has taken away buying power, according to Angus. What in 1981 had $378 purchasing power is now worth $259, he said.

Lawmakers didn't approve a grant increase. And they didn't provide funding to cover expected caseload growth. In January 1989, 14,839 Utah families received AFDC. That number had risen to 16,110 in January 1991 and officials expect an additional 4,400 cases a month by June 30.

Instead, welfare recipients got word that their grants may be cut, starting with the fiscal year beginning July 1. In the past, welfare recipients have received increases when state employees do. This year, employees got 4.5 percent. Welfare funding is expected to be about $1.7 million short in general funds.

The department is looking at options, including cuts to Medicaid programs and suspension of General Assistance and the Emergency Work Program for the summer. The department could also phase-in hiring of authorized and much-needed staff and save some money that way, Angus said.

During discussion of options at a meeting between Utah Issues and the department on Friday, several received serious criticism.

Currently, as an incentive to help people become employed and get off welfare, a certain amount of earned income is "disregarded" in calculating grant eligibility. The department could, as another option, reduce or eliminate that disregard.

Angus said his department doesn't like any of the options, but preserving grant levels is a priority. As for adjusting the disregard, "it's like putting your foot in front of you and shooting a hole in it."

Medicaid cuts could actually force more people into programs and increase costs. And other potential cuts, like a reduction of the state Supplemental Security Income stipend, have already proven to be unpopular suggestion.

The dilemma, according to Johnson, is what problems these measures could create later on. "Closing programs in summer could mean worse problems later. We all know that," she said. "We have to do something. Our first priority is to protect AFDC grants. We hope also to protect General Assistance."

Angus said the list has been given to Gov. Norm H. Bangerter's staff and his office has requested a meeting to decide what to do.