Care-a-Van fights for home health care

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Over 2,000 seniors and people of all ages with disabilities, along with their caregivers and supporters, rallied June 9 at the State Capitol here. Their message to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: Don’t balance the state budget by eliminating home care services. These services enable 335,000 people to live at home instead of in costly institutions.

The protesters came from as far as San Diego in the south and Stanislaus County in the north, organized into a “Care-a-Van” by the Quality Home Care Coalition. The group includes American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Service Employees International Union locals representing in-home supportive service (IHSS) workers, as well as agencies and organizations representing seniors and people with disabilities.

On the way to Sacramento they held rallies at Schwarzenegger’s offices in several major cities and visited the district offices of many state senators and Assembly members.

At the Capitol, lobbying teams visited with legislators, while the crowd listened to Fabian Nunez, speaker of the State Assembly; Phil Angelides, state treasurer; Tyrone Freeman, president of SEIU 434B and of the California Home Care Council; Betty Perry of the Older Women’s League; and many others.

Schwarzenegger’s proposed 2004-05 budget would eliminate home care services for 75,000 people who are cared for by family members – and the jobs of the family members who provide the services. Home care workers’ wages would be cut to minimum wage level, and state funding for health benefits totally eliminated. Speaker after speaker pointed out that this would devastate families, cause increased turnover among home care workers and lessen quality of care.

Also eliminated would be state funding for county IHSS Public Authorities, which, besides being employers of record with which home care workers’ unions can negotiate, offer a range of services to improve the availability and quality of home care, such as provider registries, background checks and training.

“Robin Hood in reverse – a confused action hero” is how Schwarzenegger was described by Frances Gracechild, coalition co-chair and director of the Sacramento Resources for Independent Living Center. “He is stealing from the poor to give tax relief to the rich,” she said.

The coalition of home care workers and home care consumers “is the most powerful voice we have ever seen in the capital of California,” said Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation. “This should be the most important issue in the California budget,” he added.

Since January, when the governor proposed the cuts, thousands of seniors, people with disabilities and home care advocates have jammed public hearings, rallies and town-hall meetingsacross the state in protest.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.