State money unnecessary, services chief says

County Social Services Director Lee Collins says the governor’s plan to fight fraud in In-Home Supportive Services has been “a mountain of bull---t from the get-go,” and he declined to apply for state money designed to fight fraud and abuse locally.

“I did not apply for this funding because we can’t afford it, we don’t need it and I have no desire to play the governor’s game that, in my view, is fraud on the highest order,” Collins wrote in an e-mail to The Tribune.

Gov. Arnold Schwarz-enegger on Monday announced that the state has made available $26.5 million in awards to counties “that will help root out fraud in this program.”

A press release from the governor estimated that “hundreds of millions of dollars are inappropriately or fraudulently expended through the IHSS program each year.”

Twenty-nine of the state’s 58 counties received money this week, and another 16 will after they fill out proper paperwork.

But Collins is not jumping on what he considers a rancid gravy train.

One reason, he said, is that the county would have to put up $30,000, which it can’t afford.

More to the point, he added, there is no significant fraud in the San Luis Obispo County In-Home Supportive Services program.

He said Schwarzenegger has exaggerated the problem statewide to the detriment of the people the program is supposed to serve.

“The governor got all excited, urged on by a handful of empire-happy DAs (our own not included) about ‘rampant fraud’ in the IHSS program,” Collins wrote. He said district attorneys “wanted more funding to hire more investigators to build bigger operations.”

Under In-Home Supportive Services, eligible people hire caregivers to help with cooking, cleaning, working through medical bureaucracy to make appointments and doing other chores they are unable to handle on their own.

In San Luis Obispo County, 60 percent of the 1,775 being served are disabled children or adults younger than 65.

Slightly fewer than half of those hired to help them are relatives or friends.

Caregivers spend an average of 94 hours a month providing care for $10 an hour. The federal government pays half the cost, the state one-third and the county the remaining 17 percent.

With in-home services, the elderly and others are able to remain in their homes, helping them physically and psychologically — and saving taxpayer money, according to a county civil grand jury report released last May.

Collins accused Schwarz-enegger of distorting that grand jury report.

In it, jurors spent most of their time praising the program for bringing much-needed and effective help to elderly, blind and otherwise vulnerable county residents.

The grand jury found that without In-Home Supportive Services, “many, if not most ... would be in nursing homes or similar institutional facilities at public expense.”

However, the grand jury also said caregivers lack oversight due to a shortage of funding.

It alluded to rare cases in which caregivers have been fired for stealing medicine and taking loans from clients, as well as to some clients who have cheated the system by faking disabilities.

To improve oversight, grand jurors recommended that caregivers who are not relatives be fingerprinted.

Collins said focusing on that aspect of the report, rather than Schwarzenegger’s attempt to “slash and burn” In-Home Supportive Services, is “a deliberate attempt to change the report’s findings and recommendations.”

He said, “No real study of IHSS fraud has ever produced a number higher than 6 percent, with most analyses producing a percentage that is far lower.”

Schwarzenegger insists there is widespread fraud and abuse, as does Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully, who joined the governor at a press conference announcing the grants.

Scully is heading up a multi-agency IHSS Fraud Task Force that he says will “work to keep taxpayer dollars from going to those who try to cheat the system.”

Scully’s task force is working on background checks and fingerprinting for IHSS providers; fingerprinting for recipients; targeted mailings to high-risk or suspect providers; enhanced anti-fraud training for county social workers; unannounced home visits; and increasing the number of state fraud investigators, among other changes.

The governor’s office said anti-fraud efforts are expected to save $130 million this year.