Bipartisan call to protect IHSS from cuts

As the state budget process inches forward, even some Republicans are now saying that deep cuts to the state’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program may be ill-advised because they’ll cost California more in the long run.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal includes cutting all IHSS funding for domestic services – things such as cooking, cleaning and laundry – for certain recipients; foes of the plan say this would mean more than 380,000 elderly and disabled people losing this aid. The budget also includes a proposed 8.4 percent cut to all IHSS recipient hours, atop the 3.6 percent cuts from the 2010 budget.

State lawmakers from both sides of the aisle held a news conference this morning in Sacramento to express concerns.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that cutting IHSS will have a negative impact on our state’s economy as well as local economies,” said Assemblyman Jim Silva, R-Huntington Beach, according to a news release issued by the UDW Homecare Providers Union. “As a former Orange County Supervisor, I’ve seen firsthand that IHSS is much more cost-effective than institutional care.”

The release said Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Riverside, recognized some inefficiency in the program, but said he doesn’t believe cuts are the solution. “Instead, the Governor and the Legislature should be seeking to improve standards and oversight for IHSS to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being maximized.”

Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa, also voiced support for IHSS, the release said. “I am not one of those Republicans who say all government is bad government. I believe that government has a responsibility to take care of children, the elderly, disabled and veterans in the most humane, cost-effective way possible,” he said. “And I believe that cutting IHSS benefits would be an example of cutting off our nose to spite our face.”

Many Democrats have decried past cuts as well as Brown’s proposal for more.

“The fundamental question is: Do we want to promote institutional care that costs $55,000 or more per person per year to operate? Or do we want to encourage home care that costs about $12,000 per person per year?” said state Sen. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, according to the union’s release. “Instead of cutting IHSS, we must figure out ways to move a portion of the 100,000 people currently in institutions into IHSS so we can really begin to save the state money.”

Meanwhile, a member of another union – SEIU United Long Term Care Workers – testified today before an Assembly Budget subcommittee about the hardships IHSS cuts would create. Cindy Valdez is a full-time provider to her partner, Jeff.

“If domestic services were cut I would no longer be able to afford to work as his full-time caregiver. I would have to look for a full-time job,” she said. “We would probably have to hire another caregiver to take care of Jeff, someone who doesn’t know him and would have a harder time anticipating his medical and emotional needs. We might even have to resort to placing him in an assisted living center, something that both he and I do not want for him.”

SEIU ULTCW President Laphonza Butler issued a release saying the state’s most vulnerable citizens can’t afford to lose these hours of care, and “for caregivers, these cuts mean fewer hours of work, possible loss of healthcare benefits, and the potential for job loss at a time when the state’s unemployment rates are already at historic highs.”

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.