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Judge Halts Disability Home Care Cuts

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday October 22, 2009 - 09:13:00 AM

Disability rights advocates won part of a battle Monday when a federal district court judge issued a preliminary injunction against home care cuts that were scheduled to take place next month. 

Judge Claudia Wilkins ruled that the state could not move ahead with its plans to slash In-Home Supportive Services to an estimated 130,000 Californians on Nov. 1 because it would result in substantial harm, damage and injury. 

She said that the cuts would likely violate federal law and cause “incredible human suffering” to seniors and the disabled community, who were in dire need of the services. 

Hundreds of seniors and disabled citizens, including a large group from Berkeley, protested cuts to social, elder and disability services at a “People’s Day of Reckoning” rally outside Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s state office in San Francisco on June 23, urging the legislature to include revenues in California’s budget solution.  

“We are very grateful the injunction went through,” said Gina Sasso of Berkeley’s Easy Does It, which provides 24-hour emergency services to disabled residents with city funding. “It gives our clients a chance to still get their services; otherwise there would have been a major crisis. People deserve to live in their homes. They shouldn’t be forced to go to institutions and nursing homes.” 

Sasso said that if the state had imposed the cuts next month, fixed-income residents would no longer have been able to afford their personal attendants, and hundreds would have had to turn to Easy Does It for emergency help. 

“It would have been a scary situation,” she said. “The quality of services would have gone down.” 

Nick Feldman, owner and founder of Berkeley’s Dare to Dream Attendant Services, said he was delighted with the news. 

“It means that the judicial system in California has a strong value to help people with disabilities to remain in their homes,” said Feldman, 34, who has had cerebral palsy since birth. “The decision upholds federal law, that disabled people have the right to live in their own home with assistance for as long as they are living.” 

At Monday’s hearing of the class action lawsuit, V.L. v. Wagner, Judge Wilkins said that the state’s Functional Index rankings were not need-based, that essential services could be withdrawn arbitrarily, and “people could lose something irreplaceable—the ability to remain safely in their homes.” 

She ruled against all IHSS cuts , as requested by people who use IHSS and local unions, saying that the plaintiffs could show at trial that the service cuts enacted in the recent state budget violated federal law. 

Approximately 40,000 low-income seniors statewide and people with disabilities would have lost all their IHSS services, including personal care. An additional 90,000 statewide would have lost services such as meal preparation, food shopping and help with laundry and housecleaning. 

“We are convinced a humanitarian disaster would have resulted from the precipitous and arbitrary withdrawal of essential services and are delighted that the court agreed with us,” said lead counsel Melinda Bird of Disability Rights California.  

Bird said the defendants, the director of the California Department of Social Services and the director of the California Department of Health Care Services, would appeal the injunction in court. 

“Our focus will be on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal,” she said. “We think the defendants will argue that the cuts they have made are reasonable.” 

Calls to the departments’ legal divisions for comment were not returned by press time. 

Bird said that the injunction would stay in effect till there was a judgment or resolution in the case, which she said usually took six months or longer. 

The next hearing is scheduled for 2010.