The war at home

Why pick on the elderly, blind and disabled?

Steve Mehlman is the communications director for the UDW Homecare Providers Union

Low-income elderly, blind and disabled people are much better off being cared for in their own homes than in nursing homes. Period. And that’s the simple premise of California’s In-Home Supportive Services home-care program. And since it costs around $13,000 a year to care for someone in IHSS, compared to a cost to taxpayers of $55,000 and up for nursing-home care, average citizens are better off for the home-care program, too.

So why have Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his political allies, like Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully, declared war on the 460,000 vulnerable IHSS recipients and those who care for them?

All year, Schwarzenegger and his supporters have tried to destroy IHSS and discredit those who benefit from it. He first tried to throw 90 percent of all IHSS recipients—more than 410,000 people—out of the program. The state Legislature refused to go along with that draconian cut. But it did agree in July to drop or severely cut benefits to more than 100,000 people. That action is being held up in federal court.

For those who remain, Schwarzenegger and his enablers have imposed new requirements for fingerprinting, background checks and other steps supposedly designed to eliminate what they claim is “massive” fraud in IHSS.

At a July press conference, the governor made the outrageous allegation of a 25 percent fraud rate in IHSS. Scully was there to embellish Schwarzenegger’s wildly inflated claims.

The Sacramento Bee accused the governor of “spouting misleading rhetoric about waste and fraud” at the news conference, while the San Jose Mercury News called his allegations “phantom claims.” Here’s why: Even the governor’s own “quality assurance” survey in 2007 found a less than 1 percent incidence of IHSS fraud.

In Sacramento County during fiscal year 2006-2007, there were fewer than 400 reports of suspected fraud out of 17,000 IHSS clients: a rate of only about 2 percent. So, despite Scully’s continued rhetoric about individual instances of fraud, there’s no proof of an IHSS fraud “epidemic” in Sacramento County.

Despite this lack of evidence, the anti-fraud crusade promised hundreds of millions of dollars in savings. So the Legislature approved stringent new requirements for IHSS recipients and providers.

All IHSS recipients are now required to be fingerprinted. All home-care providers, many of whom make little more than minimum wage, must now pay $70 or more for their own criminal-background checks.

Any fraud in a public program or in the private sector is wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated. But the small amount of fraud in IHSS does not justify treating hundreds of thousands of California’s most vulnerable citizens and those who serve them like common criminals.

Here in Sacramento County, heaven knows there is enough crime and corruption to keep the DA’s office busy. Jan Scully has better things to do than attack low-income home-care clients and low-wage providers to score political points.