"Advocates sue over California's in-home care cuts"
Los Angeles Times
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
October 2, 2009
The lawsuit filed in federal court seeks to block reductions in supportive services for more than 130,000 elderly and disabled recipients.
Advocates for more than 130,000 elderly and disabled recipients of in-home supportive services filed suit Thursday in federal court in San Francisco to block about $82 million in state budget cuts that would eliminate or drastically reduce their services.
The suit is the latest example of legal challenges and administrative appeals that may delay tens of millions of dollars in expected budget cuts to health and human services, from adult day care centers to respite and home health aides.
"Individuals or groups who object to a policy decision are taking legal recourse and that's not unique to this year -- what is unique is the size and scope of the budget gap we have to close," said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance.
He said the administration plans to fight Thursday's lawsuit along with a slew of others filed in response to the July budget cuts.
"These reductions, while certainly difficult, were a necessary part of the package that closed the budget gap," he said.
In-home supportive services workers and their unions sued the state in June on behalf of about 400,000 workers to prevent a pay cut from $12.10 to $10.10 an hour, which would have saved the state about $78.6 million. Later that month, a federal judge in Oakland granted them a stay.
Last month, another federal judge in Oakland issued an injunction blocking an $18.3-million cut to the Medi-Cal adult healthcare program after advocates, some of whom joined in Thursday's lawsuit, argued that the services were essential for 8,000 elderly disabled recipients.
"I think that we will ultimately be successful in convincing a judge that yes, the state can make cuts, but not this way," said Melinda Bird, senior counsel in the Los Angeles office of Disability Rights California, a plaintiff in both suits. "I would encourage people not to give up."
But the lawsuits leave many of those dependent on state services in limbo, unsure whether to expect success or plan for the worst.
David Oster, 35, of Torrance, who is autistic and bipolar, said he relies on in-home aide Julia Medina, 53, to help with cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and other household chores.
"Before she came, this place was a whole mess," Oster said, showing off his tidy, one-bedroom apartment as Medina looked on. "She helped clean up the mess; we worked on that together."
Oster receives about 63 hours of in-home assistance each month, which will continue while the lawsuit is pending. Once he gets a written notice of cuts, likely to occur within the next few weeks, he is entitled to file an administrative appeal and receive a hearing.
Bird said she worries that the department will become overwhelmed with a flood of appeals.
Oscar Ramirez, a spokesman for the state Department of Social Services, which administers in-home services, said the agency has not seen a spike in appeals, but has budgeted to cover an influx during the next few months.
"It would be prudent to plan" for cuts, Ramirez said. "You don't know how it's going to go" at a hearing.