In summary

Our future will be grim if we move forward with a state budget that includes a 7% cut in hours to recipients of our state’s In-Home Supportive Services program.

By Lorena Gonzalez, Special to CalMatters

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is a Democrat who represents the 80th Assembly District in San Diego, Assemblymember.Gonzalez@assembly.ca.gov. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

As state and local governments across the country scramble to cover the largest budget deficits in a generation, we face heartbreaking decisions about what we can and cannot pay for. 

Our budget choices may be grim now, but our future will be even grimmer if we fail in this moment to meet the needs of our state’s seniors and people with disabilities.

We would be doing exactly that if we move forward with a state budget that includes a 7% cut in hours to recipients of our state’s In-Home Supportive Services program.

Through the In-Home Supportive Services program, 600,000 of the state’s most vulnerable, low-income seniors and people with disabilities are able to receive home-based care. The program allows people to live safely at home and participate in their communities. 

If we cut this crucial program, we will be stealing away the care services that allow for independent living. Without access to this critical program, more Californians will be pushed into expensive institutional care at a time when nearly half of all COVID-19 fatalities have occurred in skilled nursing or assisted living facilities.

Cutting In-Home Supportive Services hours would hurt not only seniors and people with disabilities in the midst of a global pandemic, but also the invisible heroes who provide their care.

Nicanora Montenegro is an In-Home Supportive Services provider for her sister Jeanice, who has developmental disabilities. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Nicanora’s work was challenging. Now, her sister’s day program is closed and Nicanora’s workload has doubled. Nicanora has dedicated her life to her sister’s care, and her hard work is saving thousands of dollars of taxpayer money – and possibly Jeanice’s life – by keeping her sister out of an institution. But by cutting Jeanice’s hours by 7%, we would also be cutting Nicanora’s work hours and depriving their household of much-needed income during uncertain economic times.

Most In-Home Supportive Services providers are women and people of color who are paid at or near minimum wage with few benefits. Only some counties provide health benefits and, for those that do, there is usually a minimum amount of work hours required to qualify for coverage. 

According to Nicanora’s union, United Domestic Workers, thousands of In-Home Supportive Services providers in the 21 counties represented by UDW stand to lose health insurance if the 7% cut is enacted. These frontline workers are already facing this unprecedented health crisis without adequate access to protective equipment and other resources; it is inconceivably cruel to take away their health care in the midst of a pandemic.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the health of these essential workers and their clients, like Nicanora and her sister, Jeanice, should be our primary concern. The most vulnerable members of our community are at risk, and we cannot let them become collateral damage in this crisis.

As California faces a $54.3 billion deficit, Gov. Gavin Newsom is rightly demanding that Congress provide budget relief to states like ours that are reeling from COVID-19’s economic fallout, but bailout or no bailout, we need to take cuts to In-Home Supportive Services and other life-saving programs off the budget table completely.

With a long-term care system already straining to address the needs of our sharply increasing senior population, the worst thing we could do in this moment is drain programs that are successfully and efficiently providing care to those that need it most. Instead, we should be shoring up programs like In-Home Supportive Services against the hard times to come, ensuring that every Californian is protected and that we all have an equal opportunity to live the fullest lives possible.

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Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is a Democrat who represents the 80th Assembly District in San Diego, Assemblymember.Gonzalez@assembly.ca.gov. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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