Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Disabled Californians try to make do with less funding

From The Press Tribune in Granite Bay, Calif.:

Todd and Carolyn Haines are supposed to be enjoying retirement, but at 71, Carolyn could soon be in search of a part-time job or risk losing the couple’s Roseville home.

As the state continues toward a financial meltdown, the most recent round of proposed budget cuts has families like the Haines in the foreground as programs such as In Home Supportive Services and monthly Supplemental Security Incomes face drastic reductions.

As the sole caregivers for their 37-year-old daughter, Candace, who was left severely disabled after a childhood accident, the Haines have relied on Carolyn’s salary from IHSS to supplement their meager retirement funds in order to make ends meet.

With the recent proposal Carolyn’s wages, currently at $10 an hour will be reduced to just above minimum wage as of July 1 and then reduced to $8 an hour in 2010.

Candace’s monthly SSI payments that cover her medical expenses and incidentals are also looking to be reduced up to $100 in the next three months.

“We may lose our house. That’s a very definite possibility,” Carolyn said. “Either that or I’m going to need to find another job, but who’s going to hire a 71-year-old?”

According to the United Domestic Workers of America labor union there are 1,900 residents in Placer County enrolled in the IHSS program and more than 1,500 care providers.

The state is proposing to not only reduce wages for in home caregivers but also cut people with disabilities from the program altogether.

The most recent proposal handed down from the state suggests a 10 percent reduction from the IHSS program.

“The reality is that it’s just a proposal and there’s a good chance it will be vetoed because it included tax increases,” Reed said.

William Reed, Placer County’s chairman for the United Domestic Workers of America said that those who are eligible for the program are rated on an ability scale and allotted a number of monthly care hours based on their ratings.

A person like Candace, who is severely disabled and mentally handicapped, would be considered a four or five on the functional index, as she would not survive without constant care.

The functional index rating is used to measure the degree of disability and each task is given a different rating. A person confined to a wheelchair may receive a four rating for mobility but because they can perform simple tasks like eating may have a one rating, Reed said.

Auburn resident Janet McClain, (pictured) has suffered from severe joint pain after being diagnosed with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita, a birth defect that attacks her joints and muscles.

Confined to a wheelchair, McClain relies on her significant other and IHSS worker Rob Lee to help with laundry, cooking, housework and her personal care.

“I became a caregiver after seeing how much difficulty she had finding quality care,” Lee said. “It opened up opportunities for me and now I take care of three different people. It’s how I pay the bills.”

McClain and Lee have canceled their home phone line and reduced “luxuries” like extra television channels and cut back spending to prepare for Lee’s reduction in salary.

Although she is able to maintain a part-time job, McClain said that her disease is progressive and will only continue to worsen.

“There are some days where the pain is so bad I can’t get out of bed,” McClain said. “If I don’t have the hours for someone to come in, what am I supposed to do?”

One option that many families may face if they are reduced from the IHSS program is assisted living or convalescent home programs said Deborah Doctor, legislative advocate for Disability Rights California.

“If my wages are reduced I’ll have to find another job,” said Lucy Beltran, a Rocklin resident and IHSS worker. “Then where does that leave my client? She cannot live without help, they would have to put her in a convalescent hospital.”

According to Doctor, placing the disabled in convalescent hospitals will mean passing the bill to the taxpayers, as in-home care is markedly less expensive than state homes or institutions.

“I’ve been in a convalescent hospital,” McClain said. “I’m not saying they’re all the same, but that’s not quality care. Whereas in their homes they thrive, people will die if that’s their only option.”