July 10 2013 09:23 AM

Union says San Diego County is needlessly hoarding reserves

Dave Roberts

There's a line between fiscal conservatism and miserly imprudence, and San Diego County's labor negotiations with home-care workers seems to straddle it.

United Domestic Workers (UDW), the union representing roughly 20,000 people who take care of San Diego's elderly and disabled poor, has demanded a 70-cent bump to its workers' hourly wage. The county Board of Supervisors has resisted for more than a year, saying the money just isn't there. The union disagrees, arguing that the supervisors are being shortsighted, because the county has robust reserves and a pristine credit rating.

A UDW analysis submitted to the county last month shows that the 70-cent raise could generate more than $27 million in economic activity countywide. The union argues that home-care workers, many of whom struggle financially, immediately pump their paychecks back into the economy.

"Having a huge budget reserve should not be at the expense of your citizens and the services they need right now," said UDW Executive Director Douglas Moore at a Board of Supervisors meeting last month. "If this fund is meant to be saved for a rainy day, consider it pouring."

The county spends $45.5 million a year to fund In-Home Supportive Services, a program that pays workers to care for the elderly and disabled in their homes. The state reimburses that money, although not always promptly. The reimbursement cap for home-care workers is $12.10 an hour. Home-care workers in San Diego County make $9.50.

At a meeting last month, Supervisor Dianne Jacob argued that funding for IHSS comes out of a fixed state allotment that pays for a number of social services, so a wage increase for home-care workers would require the county to cut money from another program.

However, that might not be completely accurate. State funding for social services is paid for with sales tax and vehicle-license fees. If that money decreases or remains flat, reimbursement can lag up to 18 months or longer, county officials say. But the state is still responsible for paying that money back over time as the economy improves.

Supervisor Dave Roberts, the only Democrat on the board, expressed skepticism that a wage hike would have to be balanced on the backs other programs. "This is a critical topic that we need to address," he said.

Supervisors have been reluctant to front more money for IHSS, fearing the state won't make good on the reimbursement, leaving the county with the bill. However, if the state reimburses the wage increase for home-care workers, it could be a substantial economic stimulus.

Write to joshuas@sdcitybeat.com or follow him on twitter at @jemersonsmith.


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