Dems blast budget cuts for elderly in Oakland

Bay Area Legislative Democrats did the latest installment of their roadshow this morning in Oakland to critique Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget-cut proposals.

Last month they were at Highland Hospital to highlight how the cuts will affect emergency medical care; they’ve also done events at local schools to underscore the impact of proposed education cuts. These are being replicated all over California as Democrats try to drive home the need for more tax revenue to help close the state’s $17 billion budget deficit.

Today they were at Las Bougainvilleas Senior Housing in Oakland’s Fruitvale District to talk about social services for the elderly, including a cut to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on which many seniors depend on to remain independent and in their homes.

Among those on hand were state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland; state Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro; Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland; Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley; and Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley.

Swanson afterward issued a news release saying the governor’s budget plan “will inflict irreparable harm on human service programs vital to many in California. his amounts to turning our backs on the elderly, the disabled, and the most vulnerable in our society. Such cuts are not only a bad moral decision, but a bad economic decision as well.”

Swanson’s release repeated one of the talking points from the Perata news release which had announced today’s event:

One program set to receive deep cuts is In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), which is set to be reduced by $266 million. IHSS provides medical care to low-income, disabled and aged Californians in their homes, which allows them to avoid more expensive nursing home care. The Governor’s planned cuts would result in reduced State reimbursement of wages for IHSS workers and lower hours of provided care, eliminating IHSS for an estimated 83,000 recipients.

Aaron McLear, Schwarzenegger’s press secretary, begs to differ.

“That is inaccurate – it will not eliminate anyone from the program,” he told me a short while ago. “It will however reduce hours for about 83,000 recipients.”

McLear said state officials went case-by-case through the hundreds of thousands of Californians who rely on IHSS, identifying about 83,000 who could have their hours rolled back; on average, he said, the decrease would be from about 74 hours per month of in-home aid to about 52 hours per month. “But no one is being eliminated, and a vast majority of folks are not going to see a change in their service hours at all.”

McLear noted a quarter of IHSS funding comes from the state and a quarter from counties, with federal matching funds filling the rest. Counties could choose to step up and fill the gap left by state cuts, he suggested; I replied he’s risking angry phone calls from every cash-strapped county Board of Supervisors in California.

But IHSS has doubled in size over the past decade, he said, and couldn’t be entirely spared as the state grapples with its gargantuan deficit: “We can only spend the money we have, and this is a program that he reduced in his budget but we did it in a way that mitigated the effects of the cuts.”

As with all cuts, he said, “We don’t want to do this but we have to live within our means. This is exactly why we need budget reform – so we don’t have to go through this cyclical instability of the budget year after year.”

But Swanson said there’s not only a moral imperative to preserve IHSS – there’s an economic imperative as well. “As Chair of the Assembly Labor & Employment Committee, I am concerned about the effect of the Governor’s proposed cuts on jobs in our state. IHSS allows families to care for loved ones who need medical assistance, without jeopardizing their own ability to work. Furthermore, cuts to health services in general would force mass layoffs of health care workers. Such a move will further damage California’s economy at the absolute worst possible time.”

UPDATE @ 5:52 P.M. MONDAY: Here’s video of today’s event in Oakland:

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.