By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
She pauses, and swallows audibly. “I don’t see him having a long life in that environment.”
Officials in the Schwarzenegger administration argue that the California budget deficit, currently around $12 billion, makes
the cuts unavoidable. When the governor presented his budget plan, he also noted that since fiscal year 1998-99, costs have risen 140 percent while the caseload has increased only 52 percent.
But again, critics say the governor’s numbers don’t tell the whole story. Freeman, the home-care workers’ union local president, says that the growth reflects pay raises long overdue.
“They had people working for slave wages,” Freeman says, noting that until the mid-1990s, some home-care workers were paid as little as $3 per hour.
Administration officials also point to an audit performed by Donna Arduin, director of the California Department of Finance, to support their case. Arduin concluded that up to 25 percent of IHSS services might be unnecessary or not actually provided. The allegation has raised eyebrows in some quarters.
“It’s our understanding that that audit was incredibly flawed,” says Ron Osterhout, director of the IHSS public authority in Los Angeles County. Critics say that Arduin only studied a small group of problem cases to reach the 25 percent figure. Phone calls to Arduin’s office were not returned.
The wild card in the wage equation is how the counties would respond to the reduction in state funding.
“[The cut] doesn’t preclude the counties from contracting through collective bargaining for higher wages,” says Belshe. “It’s going to be up to each of the counties.”
Schwarzenegger’s proposal, however, could make the counties’ decision for them. It calls for diverting about $1.3 billion in property tax proceeds away from the counties to make up for cuts in state school funding.
What’s more, IHSS actually benefits the states’ bottom line much more than it does the counties’, according to Phil Ansell, an assistant director for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services.
“The problem with IHSS from the county’s perspective is that nursing home costs, which are avoided by IHSS, are completely borne by the state and the federal governments,” Ansell explains.
The result is that counties with less money would have little incentive to make up for the state reductions on their own.
The debate over IHSS comes as the number of Californians eligible for the program is beginning to explode. Increases in life expectancy and advances in medical technology mean that people are staying healthy enough to be cared for in their homes longer. Those factors, however, are minor compared to the 800-pound gorilla that is looming over social services nationwide: the baby boomers.
“This is going to pale by comparison to the mess we’ll have in 15 years,” warns Osterhout. “This is the tip of the iceberg.”
Advocates for the disabled are scrambling to organize opposition to the cuts. The California Disability Community Action Network is planning rallies at the state Capitol next week to coincide with the legislative hearings. Network director Marty Omoto says he expects thousands to attend.
“What these cuts are is really a political decision targeting groups with the least political muscle,” Omoto says. “We’re trying to change that dynamic by organizing in a way that hasn’t been done before.”
To forecast the eventual outcome of the debate, it could be instructive to consider the events of 1992, when the Wilson administration proposed a 20 percent cut to the program. After stiff resistance only a 12 percent cut was approved. Further opposition led to full funding being restored seven months later.
If the current debate over Schwarzenegger’s proposed 35 percent cut ends in a similar way, Belshe says other programs will have to come under the knife.
“There has to be a reasonable and responsible middle ground,” says Belshe. “The one thing we do know is that the status quo is not an option.”
Try telling that to Nancy Becker-Kennedy. “[The program] is so obviously a humane, effective thing,” she says. “Disabled people have clawed their way out of institutions. I don’t know if we’re so marginal that forcing us back in will go unnoticed.”
In a voice more wistful than hopeful, she adds, “I hope not.”
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