Schwarzenegger and the budget crisis: it’s easy to target those least able to fight

Los Angeles Times, August 1, 2009

Schwarzenegger and the budget crisis: easy to be hard

Funny, isn’t it, that when the governor scours the state budget for waste, fraud and abuse, he only seems to find it in programs for the old, the young, the poor and others unable to raise campaign funds or muster political opposition.

Like those seniors and disabled people in the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program. IHSS allows them to stay out of nursing homes or other facilities far more expensive for them, their families and ultimately the state and its taxpayers. Clients don’t get direct state payments, just basic care such as meals and changes of clothes and linens. But beware; there could be hundreds of seniors scurrying from county to county under assumed names, trying to rack up as many sponge baths as possible. So California will now crack down by fingerprinting them.

Or those CalWorks recipients, who probably just signed up for welfare to get job training. Well, there are no jobs out there right now, so they must be abusing the system. We showed them — by cutting funding for job training. And then there are the people raking in all that subsidized Medi-Cal and Healthy Families care. They just want to get the state to pay for cheap preventive care so it doesn’t have to pay for expensive emergency care. Nice try. We’ll cull recipients by centralizing the eligibility process, because everyone knows it’s better to run government from Sacramento rather than closer to home.

California had to cut. But there’s a double irony at work. First, the point of the social safety net is to be there when it’s most needed — to ensure that during times of widespread unemployment and financial distress, the people on the edge can avoid falling into an abyss; that’s vital to them, of course, but good for the rest of us too, because it costs more to retrieve the fallen than to keep them out of the abyss in the first place. And second, after they are cut, human service programs get branded as wasteful and fraudulent and get cut again, because they don’t have a California Teachers Assn. or a California Chamber of Commerce standing up for them.

Certainly there are instances of waste and fraud in government. Fingerprinting IHSS providers, who are paid with taxpayer funds, makes some sense. But fingerprinting the home-bound clients? If that’s not an example of new wasteful government spending, it’s hard to know what is.

Meanwhile, instead of cracking down on tax fraud, California is furloughing its tax workers, who will have less time and fewer resources to collect taxes owed. It’s retaining redundant Cabinet offices, which oversee fully staffed state agencies. And in the name of erasing waste, fraud and abuse, it’s leading a devastating march through the path of least political resistance.

2 Responses to “Schwarzenegger and the budget crisis: it’s easy to target those least able to fight”

  1. 1 mlyon01 August 2, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    A disability activist wrote in response:

    Dear Editor of the Los Angeles Times,

    Thank you for being a voice for the voiceless. This editorial shows that the Los Angeles Times says really been understanding the plight of those of us who will be so deeply injured by the perfect storm in California. Every other state in the United States is dealing with the recession by a combination of budget cuts and revenue increases, but because of California’s crazy two thirds rule, the party a minority of voters voted for are able to block any revenues with one third of the votes. This minority of heartless legislators is ruining the livability and moral life of our state and gravely injuring real lives of many vulnerable people.
    Now as the Governor goes after Seniors and People with Disabilities and the other vulnerable populations you mentioned as if we were frauds it really is too much. This superb ironic essay on how the weakest among us are being accused of fraud is in the highest tradition of newspaper editorials. Thank you for giving comfort to the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable Governor and legislators who seem to have little trouble running the lives of real people and burning the safety net without a moment’s pause.
    What is really sad, is that we should all be glad that the in-home supportive services program is growing. It provides long-term care to seniors at a fraction of the price of nursing homes and in incalculably more humane way. There is not a baby boomer walking around today who will not prefer to be in their own homes than incarcerated in a nursing home in the next 10 years. Let’s hope these cruel and foolish cuts do not send a brilliant piece of public policy the way of the “Red Cars.”

    Nancy Becker Kennedy

    Former Vice Chair and Member since its inception Of the Personal Assistance Services Council that oversees the In-Home Care needs of 180,000 Seniors and People with Disabilities (and if the Governor has his way only 120,000, as 40,000 people are yanked out of their homes and into tiny rooms smell of urine with two hospital beds in them)

  2. 2 StevefromSacto August 2, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    I wouldn’t be too quick to praise the LA Times. After all, one of their writers–Evan Halper–recently wrote one of the most damaging media stories about so-called “massive” fraud in IHSS. It was unproven stories like this, pushed by partisan ideologues and ambitious district attorneys, which have led to our treating IHSS consumers and the people who care for them like common criminals.

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