Editorial: In-home services a cruel target

With the state of California once again looking at a multibillion-dollar shortfall, more painful budget cuts are inevitable. But when a budget “fix” winds up costing more than it saves, the idea should be quickly abandoned. Case in point: In-Home Supportive Services.

This government-funded program pays for caregivers for disabled, low-income residents. Most caregivers work part time, helping clients with a variety of personal tasks — such as bathing, dressing, keeping track of medications — as well as housework and errands.

The service allows many disabled people to remain in their homes, rather than having to move into much more costly nursing homes at taxpayer expense.

Clearly, the program is worthwhile from a fiscal standpoint and a humanitarian one. Yet Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is once again targeting it for draconian budget cuts that would have devastating consequences.

For starters, the governor wants to reduce the amount of the state’s contribution toward caregivers’ wages. In San Luis Obispo County, that could mean that wages for IHSS caregivers would drop to $8 per hour, from the current $10.

Even more frightening is the governor’s threat to limit IHSS benefits to the most severely impaired clients, which would eliminate services to 87 percent of current recipients. The governor has even mentioned eliminating the program altogether.

He’s also alleging that fraud in the program is rampant, and he has embarked on a crusade to root it out — even though many experts say fraud is much less prevalent than the governor claims.

We agree that if fraud is truly an issue, the state should look for reasonable ways to prevent it.

But don’t mislead the taxpayers into thinking that a crackdown on fraud is going to save hundreds of millions of dollars when there’s little evidence to back that up. And don’t pretend that gutting or eliminating the IHSS program is an option, when it’s nothing but sheer lunacy.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has already concluded that eliminating or greatly reducing the program would wind up costing more than it saves.

It reminds us of last year’s brouhaha over state parks, when it became apparent that closing parks would be more expensive than keeping them open. The governor wound up backing off his threat, and instead, state parks implemented a reasonable schedule of reduced hours and partial closures.

Threatening to dismantle In-Home Supportive Services is far more cruel than posturing about parks. Some cuts may indeed be necessary, but refusing aid to 87 percent of clients is not the answer. It should not even be on the table.

We strongly urge the governor’s office to drop the threat and come up with a more realistic proposal —one that will actually save taxpayer dollars.