"U.S. judge bars state from cutting in-home care"
San Francisco Chronicle
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
(10-19) 17:18 PDT OAKLAND -- A federal judge blocked the state Monday from eliminating in-home care to 36,000 elderly or disabled Californians, saying the money-saving measure appears to violate federal law and would deprive people of help they need to stay in their homes.
U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken's preliminary injunction also prohibits the state from denying domestic services, such as help with meals and housework, to an additional 97,000 people who now receive it. The cuts, among the budget-balancing measures approved by the Legislature, were scheduled to take effect Nov. 1 and would save the state $66 million through June 30.
"We're very relieved that 130,000 Californians are not going to lose critical services that will enable them to stay in their homes," said Stacey Leighton, a lawyer for recipients of in-home services and unions representing the workers who provide them. "These actions were not only inhumane, they were also unlawful."
Another attorney for the plaintiffs, Dara Schur of Disability Rights California, quoted Wilken as saying the reductions would cause "incredible human suffering and injury."
The judge issued her injunction from the bench after a hearing in her Oakland courtroom and denied the state's request to suspend the ruling while it asks an appellate court to reinstate the cuts.
"The governor has made this clear: All these reductions were very difficult," said Lizelda Lopez, spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services, which runs the program. "They were crafted in a way to affect people with the lowest level of need."
The In-Home Supportive Services Program provides care to 462,000 low-income Californians, including the blind and disabled and those older than 65 who need help with daily tasks to live at home. The federal government pays about 60 percent of the cost.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said there is widespread fraud and abuse in the program and has ordered background checks for workers and fingerprinting for recipients. In a separate case, Wilken rejected the state's attempt in June to reduce in-home care workers' wages, currently $10 to $12 an hour in most cases, by $2 an hour.
The proposed cuts are based on social workers' assessments of recipients' ability to perform various tasks, such as dressing, bathing, eating, taking medicine, cooking and cleaning.
Aid would be eliminated to those whose average score indicated they could do most of those tasks without help. Those still in the program would lose assistance for household chores, like food preparation, that they could perform with a modest amount of help.
The suit said the scoring distorts people's needs, pays little attention to mental deficiencies and ignores the harm the cutoffs would cause.
Among those who would lose all in-home care, the suit said, is a 5-year-old boy from Gilroy who cannot walk or talk, and needs help to eat and drink, because of a genetic defect. The state now pays for his mother to help him function at home, buy special foods and take him to the doctor, aid the state is proposing to eliminate.
Plaintiffs' lawyers said Wilken found that the cuts probably violated a federal law that requires each state to provide reasonable eligibility standards for in-home care.
E-mail Bob Egelko at firstname.lastname@example.org.