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Sep 17th
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Homecare Workers Fight for Funding

news_IHSSWage reductions may threaten vulnerable clients

One of Julee Costanza’s clients says she would rather be back on the streets than in an assisted living facility.

“She lives in a small one-room apartment now, but she was homeless for a period of time,” explains Costanza, a Santa Cruz-based homecare worker.  “Even though she might not make it on the streets, she keeps saying she would rather go that route than move into a nursing home.”

It’s possible that if state budget changes are approved, 2,000 disabled Santa Cruz residents will loose their homecare workers—domestic aids that clean, give baths, and make sure pills are taken at the right time within the comforts of the client’s home. In the 2010 budget, Gov. Schwarzenegger altered enrollment criteria for In Home Support Services (IHSS), a program that allows low-income elders and disabled patients to remain in their own homes with assistance. Of the 2,500 Santa Cruz patients currently enrolled, less than 200 will qualify if physical ability criteria change, says Francie Newfield, division director for Adult and Long Term Care at the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department.

Some clients will not be able to remain independent due to the cuts. “This is short sighted because study after study has shown you save a lot more money keeping people in their homes,” says First District County Supervisor John Leopold. Nursing homes are more expensive, and there may not be enough spots available for a wave of new clients.

Program cuts would also leave a chunk of Santa Cruz’s 1,800 homecare workers unemployed, and those that keep their jobs will face a pay cut. Costanza currently makes $11.50 an hour, but will earn minimum wage if the 2010 budget cuts are passed. Wage cuts will especially impact coastal counties like Santa Cruz, as workers are currently paid more due to the cost of living. Minimum wage is already the norm for homecare workers in most other counties.

“I love connecting with my patients, but I have to eat,” says Costanza. “I do cooking, grooming, baths and I and monitor and distribute medication—I do everything but walk in their shoes.” In some cases nurses are paid $40 an hour for the same kind of work, she adds.

The governor’s office cites fraud and fiscal crisis as the basis for the cuts. Last year awards were offered to help counties root out IHSS fraud, including overstated needs, elder abuse, and unreported deaths. About 40 percent of Santa Cruz homecare workers are related to their patient—this number jumps to 60 percent at the state-level, creating opportunities for misrepresentation of the hours worked and the actual services provided.

“Last year’s changes resulted in a 10 percent savings in the IHSS budget by reducing fraud,” says Rachel Arrezola, a spokesperson for the governor’s office.

Leopold says fraud has not been a local problem. “We have looked for fraud—we have done research, and it isn’t a major issue,” he says. Local homecare workers include the parents of developmentally disabled minors, and adult children with a chronically ill parent. In some cases the program allows children with complex needs to stay with their families, and helps elders pass away in privacy.

However, the county’s own stake in the issue is not without controversy. While the federal government covers about 50 percent of program costs, the county and state cover the remainder. If the state cuts homecare funding, counties will also have the option of lowering matching contributions.

Alameda County recently agreed to maintain the same dollar amount approved in prior local budgets, regardless of state cuts. Similar negotiations in Santa Cruz are stalling, says Scott Mann, spokesperson for United Long Term Care Workers (ULTCW), a Los Angeles-based union that represents homecare workers. “We are in mediation with Santa Cruz County over the length of our IHSS union contract,” says Mann, “and to my knowledge they have not yet formally committed to maintain full contributions into future budget cycles.” The county’s contract with local IHSS workers expired last August.

Newfield did not comment on the county’s plans. “We are negotiating this right now, so I can’t say yes or no,” she said. But according to Supervisor Leopold, the county remains supportive. “We have not talked about cutting wages on the county side of things, and we have advocated for the state to maintain full wages,” he says.

The ULTCW filed suit in response to wage reductions included in the governor’s 2009 budget. An injunction barring wage reductions was awarded last July, and the state appealed. The Ninth District Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case on Jan. 19 in Pasadena. Mann says the union anxiously awaits the Court’s decision, but will continue to fight against cuts. The legislature will vote on the 2010 budgets in June.

Comments (3)Add Comment
Gov. Arnie is Criminally Insane!!!
written by Barbara Leah Toth, February 02, 2010
I, am one of the disabled that receives IHSS help. If I had not been given this help, just over a year ago, I would end up in a state-run home for the infirm and dying. I have both Systemic Lupus, which put me in a wheelchair for six years, paralyzed. It was my IHSS provider, that helped me learn to walk again, but I am a far cry from "ok". Every step is a struggle, I can't do stairs, and can't get in and out of a bath or shower by myself, and forget getting groceries, cooking, and anything else that requires having to stand for over two minutes. Last spring, I was diagnosed with cancer. I live, day to day, chemo treatment to chemo treatment, and without the help of my IHSS provider, I shiver at the thought of where I would be.

There is no way, I could live on my own, without help. Impossible. But, the good Gov. saw fit to give one million dollars, to San Quentin, to build a new wing on Death Row. He slaps down the elderly and the disabled, and little children. And awards death row inmates.

Someone, tell me please, is it just me, or is this man completely nuts?

I wish there were some diety that would step in and cause him to be one of "us" for just one day. And make damn sure that any and all help he needed, was made completely unavailable to him. Then, maybe he would "get it" as to the damage he is doing.

He needs to be impeached. His actions, have been deplorable. We need to bombard him with email, phone calls, and letters, from every person involved in this travesty. We who need these services to sustain life, the families that have to deal with us, and the good IHSS providers who give us back a good part of our lives, so that we may remain at least independent enough, to feel as though we still have some ability to make our own choices in life.

How would he feel, if his right to make choices for himself, were suddenly taken away? Rip him out of that office, and let him find out. The IS power in numbers, and the pen is a mighty, mighty weapon. Let us use it to the hilt, here.
Get rid of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
written by Sherry, January 28, 2010
Maybe he needs another hummer for his Kennedy wife. Or more private schooling for his kids! He is the biggest piece of crap we could ever have around. My sister has a special needs child who is in his early 30's who she has taken care of all her lie by herself. She is a single mom and no father has ever helped. Maybe he should live in her shoes for a day and see how hard it is. He doesn't give a shit! Rich bastered. I hope he rots in hell !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Safety Nets With Holes
written by Denica De Foy, January 28, 2010
Why does Gov. Schwarzenegger continue to attack the small safety net afforded to the elderly and disabled? If these jobs are eliminated it will have a huge negative impact on our county and and our State. The problems do not go away simply because people want them to. On the contrary, stuffing our hospitals full of "stable" cases, while stuffing hard (underpaid) workers into the State's unemployment office is moronic at best. The elderly and disabled have every right to expect to be able to get out of bed and eat and the people trying to take this from them are nothing but short-sighted and evil. Also the caregivers have every right to be able to buy food for their families - the wages are already low. Feeding poverty and sorrow is not a plan of action, Gov. Schwarzenegger . SHAME ON YOU

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