Protecting our senior citizens, as Governor Ronald Reagan intended when he created the In-Home Supportive Service (IHSS) program in 1973, is an important budget priority during these difficult economic times.
Given California's $25.4 billion deficit, Governor Jerry Brown has proposed cuts in several areas of government, including the In-Home Supportive Services program. This program helps the elderly, blind and persons with disabilities live independent lives in their own home, instead of costlier nursing homes.
I know that budget choices like reducing In-Home Supportive Services funding are never easy. However, the Governor's proposal contains no real reforms and could be stopped entirely by a lawsuit - as was the case last year - bringing us back to the unaffordable status quo. This is not a long-term prescription for saving the program.
I believe we should use the budget crisis as an opportunity to reform this program so that it is better able to achieve its objective of caring for those who cannot care for themselves. The Governor and the Legislature must look at alternatives to service delivery that have worked in other states.
We need to look at how these states provide the same level of care with fewer resources. By using a different model of delivering services, I believe we can achieve major savings without sending more people into nursing homes. Savings can also be achieved by managing the systems of care. For example, if there are five houses in one square mile where services are being provided, five different people are picking up prescriptions as opposed to one person shopping for all five. Same could be done for laundry or transportation services. In other words, simple management and a coordination of care could achieve great savings.
We should also build on previous efforts to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in In-Home Supportive Services. Several Grand Jury investigations throughout the state found disturbing cases of fraud. For example, the caregiver of a San Diego resident suffering from schizophrenia worked only two hours per week, even though the caregiver charged the state 52 hours of care each month.
Budgets are all about priorities, and I will urge Governor Brown and my legislative colleagues to focus on making programs like In-Home Supportive Services more efficient and less wasteful. With California facing a massive shortfall, we certainly cannot spend more. The General Fund spending for the program grew at an annual rate of about 13 percent between 1998-99 and 2008-09. During the same time period, statewide General Fund spending increased by a much smaller 4.8 percent annually. Raising taxes to continue this spending growth is not realistic.
Some people measure compassion by how much money we spend on social service programs. But I believe how we spend that money is far more important. Now is the time to truly scrutinize how we spend those dollars in order to protect the most vulnerable among us. We owe it to them and to all of California's taxpayers. That is what I intend to do as I continue to review Governor Brown's budget.