Friday, 12 April 2024

Governor's budget proposal could mean less pay for IHSS workers, less care for recipients

LAKE COUNTY – Proposed cuts in the governor's budget have raised concerns about the possible impacts on caregivers and recipients in the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program.


As the state's fiscal crisis has deepened over the last several years, social services programs – including IHSS – have been suggested for cuts by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and this year is no different.


In his January budget, Schwarzenegger proposed capping the state's share of IHSS workers' compensation, which the California Budget Project estimated could cost the state's 370,000 IHSS workers $1.2 billion between this coming June and June 2011.


The report stated that Lake County's estimated 1,560 IHSS workers could lose more then $2.6 million

in that one-year period, a number that's more than half a million dollars higher than a local Social Services official believes it could be.


The California Budget Project reported that 450,000 low-income seniors and those with disabilities receive services through the IHSS program.


Because of the care they receive – help with dressing and bathing, house keeping, meal preparation, shopping and other domestic tasks – IHSS care recipients are able to remain in their homes.


The federal government pays 61.6 percent of IHSS costs, the state pays 25 percent and counties pay 13.4 percent, the California Budget Project reported.


In February 2009 the state Legislature capped the state cost of IHSS workers' wages and benefits at $10.10 per hour, including $9.50 an hour in pay and $0.60 an hour in benefits, but the California Budget Project reported that a federal district court has issued an injunction to stop the implementation of that plan.


Schwarzenegger's recent plan, which would take effect June 1 if approved, proposes to go deeper, capping the state's IHSS contribution at the California minimum wage level of $8 plus $0.60 an hour for benefits.


Forty-five of California's 58 counties – including Lake – pay combined wages and benefits above the $8.60 level, according to the report. The highest compensation in the state is $14.84 an hour in Santa Clara County, while the lowest is minimum wage, found in several counties including Colusa, Humboldt and Lassen counties.


Carol Huchingson, director of Lake County Social Services, said Lake County currently pays $8.75 an hour in wages, plus $0.60 for benefits, for a total of $9.35 hourly.


Huchingson said she found the California Budget Project estimate of $2.6 million in lost compensation for local IHSS workers over the coming year to be high.


She estimated it would actually be just under $2 million, a number based on her estimate of 2.6 million recipient hours for the coming fiscal year.


She said the governor also has proposed reducing the eligibility for IHSS recipients based on the level of disability.


However, she said many of those proposals – like the previous cap on wages – were stopped by litigation.


Even if the new proposals moved forward, she said advocacy groups typically are the next line of defense and will take the proposals to court.


Still, the state's fiscal crisis adds to the uncertainty. “I do question at what point does the whole thing just go over the top because the state has no money,” said Huchingson, who added that she doesn't believe that the wage cuts will be upheld this year.


Tristan Brown, political director for California United Homecare Workers – the union that represents local IHSS caregivers – is concerned that the threat of cuts remains very real.


He said there also have been suggestions that IHSS be completely eliminated – which met opposition in the Legislature – or that an 80-percent cut in “nonmedical” services be instituted. Such services include shopping, housekeeping and other important kinds of care.


He called that proposal a “devastatingly massive cut.”


Likewise, Brown said the suggestion that assessments of disabled clients be used to limit eligibility will hurt people in need.


With the state looking at a huge deficit, Brown thinks that when the governor's May revise comes out IHSS will still be facing cuts. That's because he said priorities appear to be shifting elsewhere; he pointed to a stand being taken by legislators around education money.


The federal portion of IHSS – at nearly 62 percent – is the highest it's ever been, and Brown suggested that any program that brings that kind of federal money into counties shouldn't be on the chopping block. Cutting IHSS could cause the state to lose that money altogether, he added.


Brown said there's a general sense in Sacramento that people are bracing for the cuts to come.


“Any cut to this program is devastating to people,” he said, adding that the union believes that the proposals for scaling back services are a matter of life and death for some IHSS recipients.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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