Settlement resolves court battles over cuts to California's in-home care program

Published: Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013 - 8:15 am

Threats of deep cuts to California's in-home care program for low-income disabled and elderly residents ended Tuesday with the announcement of a settlement in three class-action lawsuits.

The pact resolves years of fighting over proposed reductions to In-Home Supportive Services, one of many public programs targeted during state budget crises from 2009 to 2012.

Both sides applauded the settlement Tuesday as good news for more than 400,000 homebound Californians who receive care that can range from cooking to bathing to transport to medical appointments.

"We feel like for the past four years home-care workers and consumers have been living on murky ground, not knowing what to expect or what to plan for," said Rebecca Malberg, representing Service Employees International Union, which led the court fight.

"We think this settlement is the best way to get from where we are to a place where there is stability and we can move to improve the program," Malberg said.

Advocates of In-Home Supportive Services say that without basic care, many recipients would be forced into costly nursing homes.

Will Lightbourne, director of the California Department of Social Services, released a statement calling the settlement "an example of all sides coming together for the good of the people we serve."

"The agreement captures budgeted savings, eliminates the cost, risk and uncertainty of litigation – and (it) creates stability and certainty to allow this vulnerable population to remain active in the communities in which they live."

The settlement calls for a 4.4 percent cut in IHSS service hours beginning July 1, adding to a 3.6 percent cut made in 2011. The 8 percent total is a far cry from the 20 percent reduction slated for January 2012 that a federal judge suspended during the legal fight.

By enacting the more limited cut, the state will save about $160 million in 2013-14, according to H.D. Palmer, Finance Department spokesman.

Both sides expect the outlook to brighten in years ahead: Some of the reduction will be restored in 2014, and the pact includes a strategy for generating funds to rescind the remainder, perhaps in 2015.

Two other class-action suits ended by the settlement also involve proposed IHSS cuts blocked by court order.

One suit targeted a proposed $2 hourly cut in the state's share of IHSS wages and benefits – from $12.10 to $10.10 per hour.

The other lawsuit contested changes to eligibility standards in 2009 that could have reduced services to 130,000 recipients.

Legislative action is required to implement the settlement.

Call Jim Sanders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @jwsanders55.

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