State May Scale Back Home Care Services

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About 400,000 Californians need help with daily tasks around their homes. They're either too poor, too old or disabled. The state subsidizes the people who help. Governor Schwarzenegger wants to scale back those services to help erase the state's $15 billion deficit. KPCC's Julie Small has more.

Julie Small: Retiree Sandy Varga lives in Los Angeles' Palms neighborhood. She's paralyzed on the left side of her body. Because she lives on her own, she depends on state-subsidized in-home care workers to help her through the day.

Sandy Varga: I can't get out of this chair by myself, I can't get out of my bed by myself. I can't dress myself. It doesn't mean I'm not a human being. It doesn't mean I can't function somehow in the world, but I can't do it by myself.

Small: Varga traveled to Sacramento to protest on the day the governor announced plans to lower the wages the state pays home-care workers from $9 an hour to just about minimum wage. She worries about the ways that pay cut will affect people like her who depend on those workers.

Varga: It's very difficult to find someone that's responsible that will do it. And then if they don't show up, what do you do? The terror is unbelievable.

Small: That fear is real. Last year, after two of Varga's caretakers didn't show up, she got an infection and ended up in the hospital for 22 days. The bill came to $154,000. But Governor Schwarzenegger says California needs to trim spending where it can. The Health and Human Services department that provides in-home support services represents one of the largest segments of the state budget.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: I know this is going to be very difficult, and this is going to be very painful. This is why I had a hard time to make those cuts, but the absolute bottom line is, we cannot spend money that we do not have.

Small: The governor also wants to limit how many hours home care helpers can work, and the kind of work they can do. All but the neediest people will lose help with domestic chores such as cleaning, grocery shopping, and cooking. Sandy Varga argues it'll cost the state more to scale back in-home support services.

People who can't get enough help in their own homes, she says, will be forced into more expensive nursing homes. Varga contends that limiting the program will also cost Californians who depend on these services their independence and dignity.