OAKLAND, Calif. – Low-income seniors and people with disabilities won a round Oct. 19 in their long struggle against state funding cuts threatening services under California’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program. The cuts were part of the revised state budget agreed by the Democratic-controlled legislature and Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in July to close a $23 billion-plus budget gap.

Federal Judge Claudia Wilken issued a preliminary injunction halting cuts that would have ended services to some 40,000 people and significantly reduced them to over 90,000 more, effective Nov. 1.

IHSS workers now serve nearly 450,000 California children and adults with physical disabilities, mental health needs, the blind and low income seniors. They help with meal preparation, food shopping and other household tasks and accompany patients to medical appointments. This allows people to live at home who would otherwise be institutionalized. The IHSS program, which is administered by counties, receives matching federal funds along with state and county monies. Advocates say that besides institutionalization’s negative impact on quality of life, it costs much more than in-home support.

Wilken’s decision responded to a lawsuit filed Oct. 1 on behalf of several IHSS recipients by senior and disability rights organizations and unions representing IHSS workers. The plaintiffs are asking that the suit be labeled a class action for everyone affected by the cuts. They claim the state violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, federal Medicaid laws and Constitutional due process requirements.

The organizations and unions say people receiving the services need enough time to gain a hearing or reassessment of the “functional index” scores and rankings used to decide whose services are reduced or ended. Attorney Melinda Bird of Disability Rights California charged earlier this month that the rankings, based on assessments by county social workers, have been kept secret from IHSS recipients, who have thus not been able to review them for accuracy.

In issuing the preliminary injunction, Judge Wilken said she believes the plaintiffs can probably prove during the trial that the “functional index” standards are inadequate to decide who gets cut.

Several similar lawsuits are in progress, including one by SEIU to block cuts in the state’s share of IHSS workers’ wages, another that succeeded in stopping cuts to adult day health centers, and two that seek to overturn the line-item vetoes by which Schwarzenegger further slashed human needs spending after the legislature revised the budget in July.

Later this week a hearing is scheduled in a different suit, Gray Panthers of San Francisco et al v. Arnold Schwarzenegger, that seeks to restore nine “optional” adult benefits under Medi-Cal (the state’s Medicaid program). Among them are dentistry, podiatry, psychology, optometry, audiology, speech therapy and chiropractic services for most adults not living in institutions. The cutoff, effective July 1, was decided when the legislature and governor approved the original 2009-10 budget.



Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.