Schwarzenegger Cuts Funding for Elderly, Blind, and Disabled Californians in Proposed State Budget7 min read

$4 billion annual program currently serves 400,000 elderly, blind or disabled consumers; projected caseloads expected to reach 500,000 by 2012

Governor Schwarzenegger today dismissed any possibility of new state revenues to close a growing budget gap and instead proposed cuts to a popular state program that allows more than 400,000 California seniors and people with disabilities to receive home care and avoid unnecessary, expensive and unwanted institutionalization.

“We understand the magnitude of the budget deficit and that tough choices must be made,” said Evan LeVang, Co-Chair of the Quality Homecare Coalition. “However, we do not believe that the health and welfare of seniors and people with disabilities should be compromised in order to balance the budget.”

Since elected in 2003, Schwarzenegger has made it an annual practice to cut funding to the state’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program, attempting to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, blind and people living with disabilities.

“The Legislature would be well-served to automatically dismiss these cuts as foolish and short-sighted, since the IHSS program ultimately saves state tax dollars compared to costly alternatives, including institutional care,” said Herb Meyer, 76, a disabled consumer of IHSS services in Marin County. “We are forced to remind lawmakers of this simple fact every year.”

“As the Legislature is forced to demonstrate each year in response to the Governor’s budget, there is ample research and bipartisan recognition that it is far cheaper to provide in-home services than to pay for those same services in institutions,” said Deborah Doctor of Protection & Advocacy Inc. “The Governor has started off 2008 with another hypocritical spending plan; giving lip service to the most vulnerable Californians while cutting crucial state funding that allows those same Californians to live independently.”

“We need a fair balancing of this deficit crisis with a combination approach that includes some revenue raising as well as targeted program cuts to non-essential services (as opposed to across the board),” said Frances Gracechild, Co-Chair of the Quality Homecare Coalition and Executive Director of Resources for Independent Living. “Some of the tax relief that was prematurely given during the early Schwarzenegger administration should be returned by the wealthiest Californians that benefited.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut taxes when he first came into office by what is now nearly $5 billion annually, and he has never made up the revenue loss. His “car tax” cut now will total over $20 billion since the governor took office in 2003.

Schwarzenegger’s spending plan severely cuts the state’s funding for home care services that provide care for IHSS consumers in their homes, most of whom are seniors with disabilities. IHSS helps those seniors and people with disabilities avoid unnecessary, expensive and unwanted institutional alternatives. The Legislative Analyst estimates that the annual spending on each IHSS recipient is $9,924, whereas disabled nursing home patients cost about $60,000 annually.

“Does Governor Schwarzenegger really want his legacy to be that he’ll fly to China to support Olympians with disabilities, while proposing cuts which would institutionalize people like those athletes here at home?” said Bill Young, an IHSS consumer in Sacramento County.

Individuals eligible for IHSS services are disabled, age 65 or older, or blind, unable to live safely at home without help and have very low income. The IHSS program uses state, county and federal funding to enable IHSS consumers to hire a caregiver.

County social workers assess people for IHSS and can authorize up to 283 hours per month of services. Services include housecleaning, meal preparation, laundry, grocery shopping, personal care services (such as bowel and bladder care, bathing, grooming, paramedical services, accompaniment to medical appointments, and protective supervision for individuals whose mental status or cognitive functioning poses a threat to their safety and well-being). IHSS is the largest publicly funded nonmedical program in the nation designed to help people with disabilities, the elderly, and blind—and with limited resources—live safely at home.

Recipients of federal funds—called Supplemental Security Income (SSI)—and state funds—called State Supplementary Payments (SSP)—are eligible for IHSS benefits if they demonstrate an assessed need for IHSS services. SSI is the sole source of income for more than 1.2 million blind, aged and disabled persons, who must rely on the SSI grant for all their living expenses.

The IHSS program has always received bipartisan support, and is widely praised as a model state program for helping the elderly and disabled live independently.

When you have Republicans and Democrats working together to protect the IHSS program, it’s obviously foolish to continue proposing drastic cuts in state funding to that program. IHSS is fiscally and morally responsible—the kind of program California taxpayers want to see more of, rather than dismantled.

“The Governor should remember that this IHSS program touches all types of Californians—regardless of gender, ethnicity, language or ability,” said Janie Whiteford, President of the California In-Home Supportive Services Consumer Alliance. “We cannot stay silent when he repeatedly proposes cuts that affect so many California families.”

“The Governor has an overly simplified approach to dealing with our state’s budget deficit by only proposing cuts,” said Tyrone Freeman, President of SEIU United Long-term care Workers Union and Chair of the California Homecare Council. “The Governor should join lawmakers in examining new revenue options before pushing cuts to programs that provide essential, accessible, and affordable health care for the people with the greatest needs – especially cost-effective programs like IHSS.”

“The Governor and the legislature surely know that we will flood their offices with real-life stories spelling out the impact on the lives of people with disabilities, their families, friends and caregivers based on the proposed cuts to IHSS,” said Teresa Favuzzi, Executive Director of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers. “Hear us loud and clear, we will not be forced into nursing homes and institutions.”

“The Governor this week made it abundantly clear that he now sees our state’s true budget problem, and now that he cannot fix it with borrowing, he’s resorted to cutting the most successful state programs,” said Joan Lee, Legislative Liaison of Gray Panthers California. “He should go to the homes of those who receive care under IHSS. Perhaps then he would realize the full impact of what he’s doing to nearly one-half million voters in California.”

“We can always rely on Governor Schwarzenegger to chop away at the budget of the In-Home Supportive Services program,” said IHSS consumer advocate John Wilkins. “He has not learned that his obsession with cutting these funds is ultimately undermining all of our attempts to bring California in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.” The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that people with disabilities have a right to receive care in the most integrated setting appropriate and that unnecessary institutionalization is in violation of federal law.

“Ask California taxpayers which programs they want their tax dollars to fund, and I cannot believe that they’d support cutting IHSS in favor of the more expensive option of institutional care,” said Ed Andreas, Chair of the Nevada Sierra Regional IHSS Advisory Committee.

“This Governor is bound and determined to punish the workers who care for people with disabilities, including seniors,” said Carolynn Heilig, a provider of IHSS services for 14 years in Marin County. “He proposes these cuts that mean consumers in the IHSS program will not be receiving proper service. They will be put at great risk, and the Governor needs to do his homework before including these cuts in his spending plan.”

Jovan Agee is the political and legislative director for the United Domestic Workers of America in Sacramento.