Caring for California, part 3: Dignity and independence under attack

May is Labor History Month, and this year we are celebrating the contributions of organized caregivers to build and protect a quality homecare program in California. This is the third post in a four-part series. Read the full Caring for California series: Part 1   Part 2  | Part 3  |  Part 4

Part 3: Dignity and Independence Under Attack

By the early 2000s, collective bargaining had been secured for all homecare workers in California, and the creation of the public authorities in each county, which established an ‘employer of record’ for caregivers, had made great strides toward stabilizing the IHSS program. Parents of children with developmental disabilities had the option to care for them at home, and seniors could stay safely with their families as they aged, instead of being sent to nursing homes. IHSS was not only a huge success for clients, it also saved taxpayers money.

But despite the numerous social and financial advantages of IHSS, many politicians did not see the value of the program.

Curt Ostrander of UDW/AFSCME and Lisa Piña of Riverside County Human Resources shake hands on the historic agreement between UDW and Riverside County that would utilize all available state and federal funding  to support homecare providers within the life of the contract

Curt Ostrander of UDW/AFSCME and Lisa Piña of Riverside County Human Resources shake hands on the historic agreement between UDW and Riverside County that would utilize all available state and federal funding to support homecare providers within the life of the contract

Contracts for homecare providers were hard won victories

After winning collective bargaining, UDW and other homecare unions in California began the difficult task of organizing the thousands of independent homecare providers spread out across the state. Each of California’s 58 counties were required to negotiate individual IHSS contracts. While state and federal governments would participate in paying up to $12.10 per hour for provider wages and benefits, county supervisors had the final say over worker’s contracts. Most counties held wages to a far lower rate and many provided minimal or no medical insurance to workers.

It was only through uniting the voices of homecare providers, our clients, and community advocates, that IHSS providers began to win living wages and benefits.

Throughout this same period, the homecare community was fighting terrible threats to our program coming from the state. UDW and other IHSS advocates acted swiftly and relentlessly to bring our united voices to hearings in Sacramento and letter-writing campaigns to the governor.

Arnold Schwarzenegger attempts to ‘terminate’ homecare

Protestor at the historic LA rally in 2009

Protestor at the historic LA rally in 2009

Governor Schwarzenegger, elected in 2003 during extreme state budget difficulties, targeted the IHSS program for draconian and extreme cuts throughout his term. Facing huge deficits, Schwarzenegger sought to balance the state budget on the backs of the disabled and elderly by radically reducing funding for IHSS. In his attempt to influence legislators and the public, he falsely accused the IHSS program of being rife with fraud; propaganda that was later shown to be false. Amongst his many proposals to slash IHSS during his term, this governor sought to:

  • Eliminate all family members as care providers
  • Cut the amount that the state contributes to provider wages to a maximum of $9.50 per hour
  • Cut IHSS client hours by 20% across the board
  • Eliminate IHSS clients from the program that had a “functional index ranking” of under 5 (which would cut all except clients with extreme physical disability)
  • Remove all “domestic” service hours (food preparation, cleaning, laundry, etc.) from any IHSS client in a shared living arrangement (even if the roommate was not a relative)
  • Cut administrative funding for IHSS to the public authorities by over 50%
  • Eliminate funding for client input to the program through local advisory committees

Homecare as we knew it would be decimated. To add insult to injury, the Governor was simultaneously proposing to spend an unforetold amount of money on “anti-fraud measures” that included background checks and lengthy orientation processes for providers, mandatory fingerprinting from both provider and client on every IHSS timesheet, and invasive, unannounced home visits offered under the guise of “quality assurance”.  Schwarzenegger’s reasoning was that hiring more fraud investigators could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars—an outrageous exaggeration considering that studies put the amount of potential fraud in IHSS at less than 2%.

Doug Moore, UDW Executive Director, speaks to the crowd at the historic 2009 rally in LA, the largest homecare rally in California history.

Doug Moore, UDW Executive Director, at the LA rally.

The homecare community was so outraged by the Governor’s proposals that a massive protest was launched in Los Angeles, uniting labor and community leaders together with the IHSS providers and clients whose very lives were at risk from the proposed cuts.

“It is a sad day for California when we treat our elderly, blind and disabled citizens and those who care for them like common criminals and call it ‘reform’,” said UDW Executive Director Doug Moore at the historic rally in 2009.

Demonstrations were held in Sacramento and in numerous cities across the state. UDW—along with other homecare unions and advocacy organizations—filed lawsuits against the state to stop the proposed cuts from being enacted.

Most of the lawsuits were eventually settled without fatal harm to the program, but irreparable damage was done to the public image of IHSS, laying much of the groundwork for future battles. Some cuts were enacted in later years, including an 8% across-the-board reduction to client hours. Funding for the vital IHSS client advisory committees was all but eliminated from the program. Attacks by the state government to the basic safety, dignity, and independence of persons whose lives depend on the program remain a source of life-threatening stress every year when new proposals to cut IHSS are put forth.

  • 2002: the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) recommends eliminating payment for homecare workers that are relatives of IHSS clients
  • 2004: Governor Schwarzenegger proposes slashing 62.4 million hours of care through IHSS, reducing services for 75,000 clients and cutting $881.3 million in funding—35% of the entire caseload. UDW, along with other stakeholders, succeeds in blocking this proposal
  • 2005-2008: Year after year, Governor Schwarzenegger proposes drastic cuts to IHSS. UDW, together with a coalition of other community activists, steps up our political involvement and holds protests all over the state and at the Capitol
  • 2009: The homecare community organizes huge protests and participates in lawsuits to stop the cuts
Thousands of homecare workers, their clients and families lined the streets of Los Angeles in historic 2009 protest rally.

Thousands of homecare workers, their clients and families lined the streets of Los Angeles in historic 2009 protest rally.

Continue reading Part 4: United for a better future

 

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