McIntosh blames state for low IHSS pay
Don’t blame Butte County for home-care workers’ low wages, Paul McIntosh told the head of a state Assembly budget subcommittee last week. If anyone’s to blame, it’s the state, mostly because of its failure to pay the costs of Oroville Dam.
McIntosh, the county’s chief administrative officer, was one of the featured speakers at the hearing, which was held Thursday, May 11, in the Harlen Adams Theater at Chico State University. As hearings go, it was unusual, in that only one member of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 1 on Health and Human Services—its chairman, Hector de la Torre (D-Glendale)—was present. About 125 people, many of them wearing the blue T-shirts of the home-care workers union, were in the audience.
That union, California United Homecare Workers (CUHW), has been putting pressure on the county to increase the pay of in-home supportive services (IHSS) workers from the current $7.11 an hour to at least $9.25 and to provide health benefits. IHSS workers help take care of the disabled and the invalided elderly. The idea is to save money and provide better care by enabling them to remain in their homes.
The county is the employer of record of home-care workers (though most of their pay comes from the state and federal governments) and is currently in negotiations with the union.
McIntosh was preceded at the lectern by Tyrone Freeman, president of CUHW, who lambasted the county for giving raises this year to its personnel, including a 56 percent pay hike for county supervisors, while making “unacceptable offers” to its 2,500 home-care workers. (In November 2004 the county offered a three-year hike, to $7.21 the first year, $7.35 the second and $7.50 the third.)
“The supervisors’ raise [about $17,000 annually] exceeds what a home-care worker makes in a year,” Freeman charged.
In the same 12 counties that were used for comparison in setting the supervisors’ salaries, Freeman said, the median home-care wage is $9.25, with benefits. Butte County’s home-care workers should make at least the same.
Besides, he added, such a pay hike would bring in an additional $9 million annually to the county, “putting gas in its economic engine.”
Maybe so, McIntosh replied a short while later, but Butte County is “simply not in a position to increase its costs for IHSS services.”
He went over the county’s long history of fiscal troubles, including a flirtation with bankruptcy in 1991and being declared a “distressed county” in 1996, 1999 and 2003. Meanwhile, the number of IHSS recipients has increased substantially, and with them the number of IHSS hours, from about 2.2 million in 1999-2000 to more than 4 million in 2006-07. The cost of the program has gone up similarly during that time, from about $5 million to more than $30 million. Of that, the county must pay 17.5 percent.
Acknowledging that the state ultimately reimburses most of that 17.5 percent, McIntosh pointed out that it does so extremely slowly. The county is still waiting for its money from 2003-04, he said.
Butte County has “unique fiscal challenges,” he then said, chief among the Oroville Dam, which is costing the county $4.56 million in annual operational costs and a loss of $6.8 million in property taxes, money the state has not seen fit to reimburse.
“If the state of California would meet its obligations regarding Lake Oroville, maybe Butte County could do better with IHSS,” he said.
This prompted a reply from de la Torre, who noted: “The 57 other counties have various levels of problems, but they seem to have been able to include IHSS and make it work for them.”
A number of disabled people spoke of the value of IHSS in allowing them to live relatively normal lives. Evan LeVang, director of Independent Living Services, called it “the lifeline, the savior, the foundation for people with disabilities to live among us.”
Both McIntosh and District Attorney Mike Ramsey said the program was ripe for fraud, but de la Torre pointed out that, of 400,000 IHSS cases statewide, only 2000—or half of 1 percent—had been referred for abuse.