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Draconian Budget Cuts to Senior and Disabled Programs

by Lydia Gans
Wednesday October 13, 2010 - 08:40:00 AM

Arnieville, the name inspired by the Hoovervilles in the depression years, was a month long camp out in Berkeley in July to protest threatened cuts in services for elderly and disabled people. Last week Arnieville went to Sacramento with their allies in a last ditch effort to prevent the legislature and the governor from making cuts in their desperately needed programs. The results – nothing. Other than a few arrests for “obstructing state business” they were not heard. The budget was passed with the cuts the legislative leaders had agreed on (in closed sessions). 

Then the governor wielded his blue pencil and proceeded to make even more draconian cuts. He blue pencilled 23 line items, altogether almost $1 billion in spending on welfare, special education and various social service programs. Assembly Speaker John Perez (D- Los Angeles) said the governor's vetoes “were directed at making life more difficult for California's working parents and the poorest, sickest and most elderly Californians.” 

Many social service programs are already struggling to survive. For some programs, such as In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) or MediCal, which literally help people survive, even a small cut can be devastating. IHSS provides home care workers who help seniors and disabled people with the necessary activities of daily living, with meals, washing, dressing, getting in and out of bed, and so on which they can not do for themselves. Without the help, they have no option but to go into a nursing home. One need only listen to a few people with the experience to realize what a horrible alternative that can be. Adrienne Lauby, IHSS recipient and Arnieville activist, says “there are people who have told me they will kill themselves rather than go into a nursing home and I am sure that some of them will. Because they've been there. And the loss of control that you have, like when you get up in the morning, when you have food, it's just immense. And then there's downright abuses ...” 

Cut backs in IHSS, MediCAL and other services not only hurt those who need them but have a measurable impact on the economy. A measure of the impact is what economists call 'output multipliers'. A report published by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education explains “Low income residents spend a greater share of their earnings and spend more locally than do higher income residents. For this reason, the multipliers for CalWORKS and IHSS are particularly high since more of the funds go to low income families while the multipliers for tax cuts to upper income tax payers are relatively lower.” IHSS, by far the largest program, itself employs over 300,000 workers so even a 10% cut would have a significant impact. The report also points out that some human service programs also bring in significant matching federal dollars. 

There is other collateral damage that results from cutbacks in services. Loss of the services of their home care workers can mean that family members have to fill in. A daughter might have to give up her job to become the care giver, thus further reducing the family income. And cutbacks in medical care are putting more and more of a load on hospitals and emergency rooms, all of which has negative effects on the economy. As for the home care workers, who receive minimum pay as it is, even if they don't lose their jobs they could have their hours reduced. This causes additional hardships for the workers because they must be employed at least 80 hours a month in order to qualify for medical benefits. 

Among the organizations joined in the coalition with Arnieville is CUIDO - Communities United in defense of Olmstead. [This refers to the 1999 supreme Court Olmstead decision that basically required states to provide persons with disabilities accommodations in community settings rather that institutions. It is a requirement as part of the implementation of the ADA.] Also participating in the coalition are the Health and Human Services Network of California, the California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA), and Parent Voices. (For more information, all have web sites.) 

More and more people are feeling the pain and they will continue to appeal and to protest. A big issue, Adriene Lauby explains, is the so-called “anti-fraud” measures that are still in the budget which are used to intimidate and harass. And she points out that the budget process starts all over again in January. “We'll demand that the legislature get more taxes into the budget. We believe in a time of recession the safety net needs to greatly expand.”