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Careless: How Governor Brown Is Harming California's Seniors and Disabled — and the People Who Care for Them

The California Governor's new budget cuts into the already paltry $9 an hour that most IHSS workers make.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Rob Marmion

 
 
 
 

This article originally appeared on Capital and Main, and is reprinted here with their permission.

Andrea Vidales makes nine dollars an hour taking care of a blind Korean War veteran and an elderly couple in their Merced County homes. Under California’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program, she spends about 60 hours every week bathing her clients, preparing their meals, cleaning house, paying their bills, driving them to doctors and dealing with other aspects of their medical care. She was delighted, then, when the Obama administration, through the U.S. Department of Labor, announced new regulations last September requiring in-home caregivers to be paid overtime for working more than 40 hours a week.

Her good fortune didn’t last long. On Jan. 9, Governor Jerry Brown unveiled his proposed $155-billion budget for 2014-2015 at a press conference in Sacramento. Under the governor’s budget, Vidales and hundreds of thousands of other home health care workers would be prohibited from working more than eight hours a day, or 40 hours a week. Now, suddenly, the state’s home health care workers are not only facing the possibility of not receiving overtime, but of also losing the extra hours they’ve been accustomed to working.

The overtime prohibition would cover all IHSS caregivers. The IHSS program, which has operated for nearly four decades, is designed to allow seniors and people with disabilities to live in their homes rather than in more expensive institutions — whose per-patient costs typically run five times as much as in-home care. Under the program, about 360,000 home health care workers provide care to roughly 450,000 people as part of California’s Medi-Cal program. It is five times larger than the next largest program operated by any other state.

Brown’s provision is intended to save California from paying the overtime required under the new federal regulations. But home health care workers say the overtime prohibition would have a devastating impact on their incomes, and advocates for seniors and the disabled claim that care would be disrupted for some of the state’s most vulnerable people. The ensuing conflict between federal generosity and the pressures of a state budget have set in motion a classic example of good intentions producing unintended consequences.

“It’s really going to create chaos for recipients and for present caregivers,” says Gary Passmore, vice president of the Sacramento-based advocacy group Congress of California Seniors. He warns that the elderly and disabled who require care beyond 40 hours a week will be forced to rely on other caregivers with less familiarity with their special needs. “Ironically, the people who need the most hours [have] the highest needs,” he says. “They are the frailest and the most profoundly disabled.”

The impact would be felt by a largely female workforce, whose members earn an average of $11.62 an hour. Vidales, for instance, would have more than 80 hours of pay cut each month and would lose more than a third of her current income.

“I would be really, really broke,” Vidales, a 62-year-old resident of the Central Valley town of Atwater, tells Capital & Main.

Under the program, elderly, disabled and blind recipients can chose the person who cares for them. In California, more than 72 percent of IHSS recipients receive care from a relative and more than 42 percent of caregivers live with the person for whom they provide care.

Mary Burch, a 72-year-old Modesto widow, is one such caregiver. She takes care of her severely disabled 40-year-old daughter, Christy. Under the IHSS program, Burch is currently paid $9.38 an hour for 272 hours a month. If the overtime ban goes into effect, she would lose more than 100 hours of work each month, a 40 percent cut in her income. She says the $1,000-a-month cutback might force her to lose her house.