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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Open Letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

I'm a novice at this sort of communication, sir, so please bear with me if the form and tone are not in line with what you would expect from one of your constituents.

You have recently begun running ads on television asking us to "stand for California" and balance our state's budget without raising taxes.  Your Dream Team has apparently raised enough money to film the ad and found ways to get them aired throughout the state.  Why not spend a little bit of money up front if it stands a chance of saving a lot of money and balancing a budget?

When it comes to budgets, most every adult in California understands the basics of maintaining a budget.  You start with figuring out how much money you have coming in to your household, then subtract from that income each of one's monthly expenses.  The goal would be to spend less than one earns so one has a little bit of savings left each month for unexpected expenses or, if one is really good at maintaining a budget, have money saved for retirement (outside of Social Security and 401(k) plans) and/or money to put one's children through college.

Sadly, many Californians are spending more on their expenses.  More and more of us are trying desperately to hang on to whatever savings we have and we're buying fewer and fewer items to do so.

I picked up a copy of today's LA Times -- $2 for the Sunday Times and the chance at finding grocery coupons for items I buy thus saving $10 or $15 at the grocery store on my next visit -- and on the front page was an article that hinted at all sorts of programs that provide services to our state's elderly and disabled population were in jeopardy of being cut.

Even this move, I understand.  If you drop the state's In Home Support Services program you stand to save a good chunk of change.  In Los Angeles County, the last estimate I heard was 70,000 people work for In Home Support Services.  I work nearly 190 hours a month (with no overtime, vacation or sick pay) for a net paycheck of $1500 per month (and, yes, taxes are taken out of my check as they are the paychecks of my fellow workers).  I'll let you do the math to figure out just how much per hour it costs to employee me to care for my partner at home.

Most of my fellow IHSS workers pick up less than my 190 hours.  Using a conservative estimate of 140 hours a month, the state could save around $100 million a month in Los Angeles County alone, roughly.  What wonderful news!

Every year, statewide, billions are saved.  Why, you may have practically solved the budget crisis all on your own!

Oh, but now what to do with those folks in California who now do not have In Home Support Services?  Surely every last one of these people has some relative with which they can live and those relatives can surely switch from full to part time work, or just quit working altogether, to stay home and take care of these people.  I'm sure somehow these relative's health care will be covered and their 401(k) plans will continue to grow to assure them of a safe and secure retirement.

Here's where the math gets a bit more fuzzy.  

In my many encounters with my union, SEIU 434-B, I find that the vast majority of my fellow IHSS workers are Latina and speak just enough English to get by.  Does this mean that their clients are also of Mexican and/or Central and/or South American descent and all of these women are selflessly caring for elderly or disabled adults in their own families?

I talked with one woman to find out what her experience as an IHSS worker was. She split her time between three clients because no one client offered enough hours to cover the worker's expenses.  She drove a very much used station wagon to go between her three clients and was just barely meeting her financial obligations.  It seemed very unlikely that her clients were also relatives of hers.

Truth is, Governor, a good number of these elderly and/or disabled constituents (and they vote, too.  They have lots of time on their hands to make calls to other Californians to encourage them to stand with you or whatever their consciousness drives them to do as far as politics) do not have relatives who can spare the time to care for them.  Some do not even have surviving relations.

As these people need several hours a day of assistance, usually with housework, dressing, bathing, running errands, going to the doctors, paying bills, etc., these people without independently wealthy relatives who can drop everything for years at a time and selflessly give of their time are on their own.  They stand little chance of remaining in their own homes and apartments and will likely need to find a place at an assisted living center or nursing home.

So, how much can one expect to pay on average for a month's stay at one of these group places?  Perhaps having all of these elderly and disabled folks all in the same place will lower the per person cost of caring for them.  Much as would apply, I'd expect, for our state's prison population.  I'm sure the prisons are ridiculously cheap to keep open and fill.  Perhaps the LA Times article from today's paper has the per prisoner per day cost of $120 well overestimated.

By the way, perhaps us displaced IHSS workers could take over for properly trained and educated corrections officers at the prisons.  My 8 hour shift there would earn me $64 a day, or just under $1300 a month.  I'm sure that's quite a bit less than what a corrections officer makes in a state prison.  More savings!  It feels like I'm shopping at a going out of business sale !!

Now, about those elderly and disabled who have no one who will care for them.  I'm sure any openings now available at assisted living and nursing homes will be readily filled.  Perhaps more of them need to be built, creating more construction jobs.  Oh, boy, I can now see why every June and July our Legislature usually pull all-nighters in Sacramento. This sort of shuffling of budgets and staffing gets quite addictive.

Now, how much will these elderly and disabled, who I'm sure are making more money than I am now as an IHSS worker or why else would they be in their own homes and have someone like me helping them out, need to shell out on average to one of these facilities?

Oh.  Past 100 days at a nursing home and those cash-heavy elderly and disabled may be out of luck for continued care.  What about going with assisted living for those who just need that few hours of help a day?

Hmm.  $5,000 per month for living in what is basically a hotel/boarding school style home with no home cooking and that whole "who's going to die today" vibe most get just walking in through the front door of a place like this VERSUS $1500 a month for more hours of care (40 a week per person compared to ?? hours at one of these facilities).

Is $5000 still more than $1500 in the language of our state's upcoming budget?

Now, I'm one of those few IHSS workers who has a Bachelor's degree.  Mine happens to be in Business Management.  It was about 20 years ago since I graduated, but from what I can recall it is probably not the wisest business move to stop spending $1150 per month (on average) per worker so that you spend $5000 a month housing half of those people affected by the loss of IHSS workers.

While my rather silly idea of replacing Corrections officers with IHSS workers will undoubtedly save a lot of money, unless the prisoners need assistance with feeding, bathing and dispensing medication, there's bound to be . . . uh . . a rough transitional period at first.

Governor, I am well familiar with the tricks / techniques of negotiation and am pretty sure all of this blustering is just to scare the Legislature into finding creative solutions to our budget crisis.

May I propose something we could do to help prevent future budget impasses?  It's not a new idea; however, instead of trying to get two out of every three legislators to agree on something as monumental as a budget, we try getting just 51% of legislators to agree on a budget plan.  When you think about it in terms of a typical family, the family budget is usually the responsibility of just one of the adults in the family.  Some of my worst arguments with my partner is about our family budget, and there are only the two of us with a say in it.  Could you imagine if every family had to get two out of three adults in the same house to agree on a budget?


By the way, if you feel the need to threaten total elimination of programs which provide some assistance to those who cannot assist themselves, please consider most these people each have a vote.  They also have nothing but time to make calls to their friends, neighbors and as many others as they can to remind them what having someone with your political philosophy may mean to them personally in the future.  More and more people are living longer and more of the disabled are now living independently with just a few hours of assistance per day.

This is not a constituency whose numbers will dwindle in numbers any time soon.  Please listen to their voices and read their words in the coming days and do what you feel in your heart is the right thing.



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