Restore benefits for IHSS care workers

This year, the federal Department of Labor decided that home care workers, including In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) care providers, are entitled to overtime, just like the vast majority of the workforce. IHSS, a public program, enables about 450,000 poor Californians, primarily seniors, to stay at home safely and avoid institutionalization. A small percentage of people who use IHSS need more than 40 hours per week to stay safe.  Governor  Brown reacted by proposing a ban on overtime for IHSS workers, so that no worker can work more than 40 hours per week. This ban would mean that around 40,000 people who use IHSS – all of them either seniors or people with disabilities – would have to find additional new caregivers, even though they want to keep their current workers to do this intimate caregiving.

People who use IHSS, their advocates and the legislature asked: Where are the 40,000 new people ready, willing, qualified and able to do this work, at low pay, with no sick time, no vacation time and usually no health benefits – to take the places of the people already doing the work – some of them for decades?

The state Assembly and Senate budget committees know the devastating impact this change will have on Californians with disabilities and voted to fund overtime for IHSS workers and rescind the 8% cut imposed during the economic downturn.  That was the right decision and one that will ensure that Californians like Andrea York can safely live in the community with care by providers they trust.

Andrea York is blind and has mental health disabilities.  Her sister, Tonya, provides all of her care and shares her home. Caring for Andrea means that Tonya cannot take a job outside their home. Tonya gets paid just above minimum wage, with no benefits.  Andrea trusts Tonya, who says that “Any little stress can cause Andrea to have a panic attack.”  When Tonya heard about Governor Brown’s proposal, she realized that her sister’s health and their family home were now threatened: not only would Andrea be distressed and frightened by a stranger providing her care, but the cut in household income threatens to put them out of their house and onto the street.

Andrea is one example of how tens of thousands of poor Californians with multiple disabilities – including seniors –  avoid crises and expensive institutionalization by careful management of their symptoms and supportive services,  provided by their chosen  In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) workers. Depending on the individual’s needs, IHSS workers may assist with food shopping and preparation, hygiene, intimate care, medication management and cleaning.

The legislative leadership and the Governor must do what’s right: People who use IHSS gave up a lot during the budget crisis. It’s time to give them back the hours they need and let them continue to choose the workers who enter their homes to deliver crucial services.

Ed’s Note:  Margaret Johnson is the Advocacy Director for Disability Rights California.


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