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Marin Independent Journal

October 23, 2009

 

Marin recipients of home support services grateful for judge's reprieve

By Richard Halstead

Marin residents who would have lost government funding for their In-Home Supportive Service workers under proposed state changes were relieved this week after a federal judge blocked the plan, at least temporarily.

"I was very happy to hear that. I was going through a lot of stress. I was going to be cut off completely," said Tammy Lehman of Novato, who receives help cleaning her home, cooking and shopping for groceries three times a week. Lehman said she suffers from back problems, a seizure disorder and depression.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken issued the preliminary injunction at the end of a two-hour hearing Monday. Wilken said the advocates for disabled and elderly Californians and labor unions who sued to stop the state will likely be able to prove at trial that the state was using inadequate standards to determine whose services would be cut.

In-Home Supportive Service workers help people with tasks such as meal preparation, food shopping, cleaning and assistance to medical appointments so they can stay in their own homes rather than require costly institutionalization.

The funding cuts were approved by the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this summer to help deal with a growing budget deficit and were expected to save $82.1 million through the end of fiscal year 2010. The cuts were to be implemented by denying service to clients with low "functional index" scores. The scores are based on an annual assessment of medical information and an analysis by a county social worker.

"They were never intended to be used for that purpose," said Nick Trunzo, director of the county's Division of Aging and Adult Services.

Had the proposed changes been implemented, 260 of the 1,550 Marin residents served by in-home workers would have lost their funding, Trunzo said.

Eli Gelardin, executive director of the Marin Center for Independent Living, said the functional index scores are a faulty means of rationing care. He said, for example, that one of the Marin residents who would have been denied care has a brain injury and needs help keeping his home clean and organized.

"Each client has unique needs," Gelardin said.

After the judge's order Monday, Lizelda Lopez, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services, said, "We will comply with the judge's order, but we cannot quickly reverse some of the complex payroll system changes that have already been made, so there may be some delay."

Trunzo said he hopes that won't mean that checks will be delayed to some recipients of In-Home Support Services care. Although the county of Marin distributes the checks, they are issued by the state.

"They really need to make good on their commitment to pay the workers," said Madeline Kellner, executive director of the In-Home Supportive Services Public Authority of Marin, which represents Marin's in-home support workers in contract negotiations with the county.

Wilken on Monday denied a request by the state's attorneys to suspend her ruling while they ask an appellate court to reinstate the cuts.

This lawsuit challenges cuts in hours provided to in-home care recipients, while an earlier case pursued by the Service Employees International Union challenged a proposed July 1 cutback in IHSS workers' wages. Wilken in June enjoined the state from enacting those cuts; the state appealed that injunction, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet ruled on that case.