"Arnieville" Tent City Protests Home Care Cuts

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On a traffic island on Adeline Street in Berkeley, Calif., lies “Arnieville,” a collection of five tents where a group of disabled and elderly Californians are making a last ditch effort to get Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attention and stop the budget cuts to In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) and related services.

Arnieville – named after the Golden State’s governor – is a modern-day version of the Hooverville shantytowns erected during the Great Depression. Hooverville was the ironic name used to chide President Herbert Hoover, whose policies deepened the Depression and the subsequent poverty and homelessness of the 1930s.

Plan Would Cut 40 Percent

“This sweet little collection of tents that we call our humble temporary home could become our humble permanent home,” said Jean Stewart. She has been among the state’s low-income recipients of IHSS home care for nearly 15 years. Stewart is currently living in an Arnieville tent to protest the governor’s plan to eliminate 40 percent of IHSS spending.

Stewart said her home care provider has become a part of the family. “I actually can’t bear to think about letting her go. She is a member of my family and she knows that. Her seven-year-old daughter calls me nana,” Stewart said.

The proposed IHSS budget cuts would put thousands of home-assistance recipients either in nursing homes or on the streets. The office of California’s legislative analyst reported earlier this year that the state could save a great deal by only providing IHSS to the neediest of the program’s 440,000 beneficiaries and another one-third would enter nursing homes.

But Steve A. Wallace, of the University of California Los Angeles School of Public Health, noted recently that most of the 300,000 vulnerable Californians now on the program would be stranded without resources. That’s because the state has only enough nursing home beds to take in five percent of its elders at a time.

Wallace and others say that the legislative analyst’s office failed to calculate the resulting cots of increased hospital admissions, emergency room care and lost tax revenue caused by family caregivers needing to leave or limit their jobs to stay at home.

IHSS now costs about $10,000 per person annually, whereas a nursing home costs about $55,000 a year, according to the United Domestic Workers Homecare Providers Union.

200,000 Would Lose Jobs

The governor’s cuts would plunge the home care workforce by 200,000 people, stated Brenda Jackson, “shooting the unemployment rate up.” Jackson is a home care worker who is on the board of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Long-Term Care Workers (ULTCW).

One of her home care clients is Helen Bookman, whom Jackson assists with help she needs to accomplish day-to-day tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, bathing and grocery shopping. “She is very vital in my life. She helps me remember things that I need to do,” Bookman said.

Jackson’s only source of income is working as a home care worker. If the cuts pass, she will be unemployed.

“One of the real stupidities is that there are not enough nursing home places for people to go to,” Peni Hall, a recipient of IHSS care, said. In a nursing home, “you have very little to say about your life,” Hall said.

Hall and Stewart say that their home care workers allow them to keep their independence, but if the cuts happen they are unsure how they would be able to continue to afford the help.

“When I was young they used to take the people that were sick and put them in the basement or the attic and separate them from their family,” Bookman said. “They didn’t get a lot of interaction. I think people get sicker in those conditions, not better.”

Jackson observed, “The purpose of in-home care is so they can have dignity within their own home. They won’t have that [in a nursing home]. They won’t have the love and they won’t have the care.”

Revenue Alternatives Ignored

The desperation heard this week in Arnieville comes after marches, rallies and meetings with legislators. “They promise us the moon,” Stewart said, “and then they turn around and vote for the cuts. They say they have to because there’s no more money in the budget.”

Contrary to the governor’s no-tax policy, Stewart urged legislators to consider using every means of closing the state’s budget gap, including increasing taxes for more affluent people, closing corporate tax loopholes and taxing big oil.

California is the only state that does not tax crude oil extracted here. In 2006 lawmakers attempted to pass Proposition 87, which would put a maximum of 6 percent tax on each barrel of oil pumped in the state. But Prop 87 was defeated by 54.7 percent.

In addition to the budget cuts, IHSS will face some stark changes that have consumers and home care workers worried about the future and viability of the program.

Gov. Schwarzenegger plans to implement mandatory fingerprinting and photography of all home care workers and IHSS beneficiaries, in addition to unannounced visits to the homes of the elders and people with disabilities.

Although protections such as criminal background checks for home care workers are needed, Stewart is among those concerned that such a blanket policy would constitute a misplaced emphasis on IHSS recipients as frauds, set on milking the system.

“It’s ludicrous,” Jackson said. “I wouldn’t even bother to let them in. What’s the purpose? They’re not coming to help; they’re coming to harm.”