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Terminator Targets

Proposed budget cuts threaten the most vulnerable

By Tara Treasurefield

Michael DeVore has multiple sclerosis and requires personal care. He's fortunate, though. California's In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program pays his wife Susan a minimal salary, so that she can stay at home and provide the care her husband needs. This arrangement, which allows the DeVores to make the best of a bad situation, may soon end.

According to the State Budget Office, Health and Human Services funding represents 20 percent of Governor Schwarzenegger's proposed General Fund budget cuts for 2003­2004, and 76 percent for 2004­2005.

The DeVores are well-known in Sonoma County. In 1990, they founded the Family Connection, a nonprofit corporation that integrates homeless families into the mainstream community. "I'm an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ," says Michael DeVore. "Basically, I had the choice of staying in the ministry or beginning the Family Connection. I thought that working with homeless families was more important. In the process of doing that, I wrote away all my benefits." By 1999 symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis forced Michael DeVore to remain at home. His wife has been his personal care provider ever since. "We're in a place very much like our clients used to be," he says.

According to Diane Kalgian, section manager of the Adult and Aging Services Division at the Sonoma County Human Services Department, only people who earn less than $1,000 per month and have no more than $2,000 in the bank qualify for in-home health services. In Home Supportive Services pays providers $9.50 per hour for up to 283 hours per month. The average number of hours that IHSS authorizes for payment is 100.

If Susan DeVore loses her In Home Supportive Services salary, she'll have to find work outside the home and won't be able to care for her husband. His disability income will be subtracted from her earnings, they'll have to finance his personal care, and he may lose his eligibility for Medi-Cal. In addition, they may no longer qualify for low-income HUD housing, and she'll lose the Kaiser coverage she has through IHSS. "We don't need any more than we have," says Michael DeVore. "But if they remove what we're getting now, which is what they're talking about doing, I'm not sure what we'll do."

Eighteen-year-old Maximillian Meyers, who has lived in Sonoma County all his life, has been paralyzed from the waste down since 1997. "Since my injury, I have been doing lots of physical therapy and attending adaptive physical education classes at Santa Rosa Junior college. I've seen the difference good care makes in the lives of my disabled classmates," he says. His father, Hari Meyers, is his caregiver.

Federal funding covers personal care for approximately 80 percent of the people in Sonoma County who need it. At issue are the people who need personal care that the federal government doesn't support and that the State of California does and soon won't if the budget cuts are approved.

According to Kalgian, California's IHSS serves 3,300 people in Sonoma County, 891 of which either receive care from a spouse or are children who receive care from a parent. Statewide, IHSS covers 321,426 people. Approximately 86,786 of these people receive care from a spouse or are children who receive care from a parent.

The governor has also proposed caseload caps. This could prevent disabled individuals who now receive in-home care from receiving state-funded services elsewhere. How bad can it get? "If the current support systems are eliminated through budget cuts, I think homelessness becomes a likely scenario," says Peter Tiernan, IHSS field representative for Local 250 of the Service Employees International Union.

Other targets for budget cuts are family-member providers for individuals who need such services as laundry, shopping, and transportation to doctors and schools; people with developmental disabilities; Medi-Cal; the Veterans Cash Benefit Program; services for immigrants; and the salaries of nursing-home caregivers.

Over a thousand disabled advocates from all over the state have been lobbying and rallying in Sacramento on their own behalf, and many legislators, Republicans and Democrats alike, are critical of the governor's proposals. Under the chairmanship of Senator Wes Chesbro, the Subcommittee on Health, Human Services, Labor, and Veterans Affairs is posing hard questions to the Schwarzenegger administration. Assemblymember Patty Berg, who represents Sonoma County, says, "Throughout the budget process, I will examine each and every cut, and see what the Legislature can do to maintain vital programs like In Home Supportive Services."

The Legislature is expected to make a decision on the proposed cuts by the end of the year. Hari Meyers says, "We ask our friends to immediately phone the governor's office [888.780.9275, then hit #8] and tell them that these cuts are unacceptable," says Hari Meyers. "Bring this issue to your churches and other groups."

Ever trusting in the power and strength of community connection, Michael DeVore says, "I don't expect that we'll be on the streets, because I understand the way the universe works. I don't feel hopeless about this. But I do know it's serious."

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From the December 18-24, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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