Last Wednesday Teresa Lindhardt made a bold attempt to introduce her story and her 5-year-old son Trenton to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by holding a press conference in her living room.
“He needs to see my son; he needs to meet us,” Lindhardt said. “He needs to know that we're people.”
Trenton, the poster child for United Cerebral Palsy, and his mom have been battling the Governor's proposed elimination of the residual In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program, which allows elderly, blind and disabled people to remain at home and be cared for by a minimally paid family member.
Some 20,437 people in San Diego County are enrolled with IHSS-3,241 of them benefit from the endangered residual program.
Lindhardt, a former X-ray technician, supports Trenton and two daughters, ages 12 and 3, on $8.50 an hour for a maximum of 159.4 hours a month-money she gets from the county through a state-funded program. In order to determine compensation, the care she provides for Trenton is broken down by the minute, such as 18 minutes a day to dress him.
“There's 13 components to getting his [leg] braces on,” said Lindhardt. “That's just one brace.”
Corinne Chee, a consultant with the Sacramento branch of Porter Novelli, a public relations firm, was moved by Lindhardt's determination to make her voice heard to politicians. Lindhardt wrote letters, made calls and spoke at rallies in support of IHSS, all to no avail, Chee said.
“I wanted to help her rise above the clutter,” she said. Through Chee's efforts, KOGO-AM radio, camera crews from local NBC, ABC and Fox affiliates and a Union-Tribune reporter crammed into Lindhardt's two-bedroom apartment-with no central air-in El Cajon.
David Thatcher, who works with Trenton through the San Diego Regional Center for the Developmentally Disabled, engaged Trenton in a playful mock sword fight and made him laugh for the cameras-an easy task-while Lindhardt spoke to reporters. Thatcher currently works with Trenton 40 hours each month, but proposed cuts will diminish that to 24 hours per month.
A day after Lindhardt's press conference, Schwarzenegger chose the odd forum of a legislative budget subcommittee hearing to announce that he would not eliminate the IHSS program, provided that the federal government step up and foot part of the bill-an estimated $200 million in Medicaid funds to cover half the cost of the program.
Nicole Evans, spokesperson for the federal Health and Human Services Agency (HHS), said the Governor's plan requires a waiver on a rule prohibiting Medicaid from compensating family members who care for their elderly or disabled relatives. The decision whether to grant the waiver will be made by HHS, which is under Schwarzenegger's control. Once the waiver is granted, it must be then approved by the state Legislature.
Marty Omoto, director of the California Disability Action Network, said the state Legislature considered cuts to the IHSS program two years ago but backed off because lawmakers thought they could get federal funding. “So, it's not a new proposal, it's just that the Governor revised it,” Omoto said.
For Lindhardt, Schwarzenegger's proposal isn't good enough. The administration's decision to shift the dollars from state to federal funding is all well and good, but she wonders if the politicians realize what they're doing to people's lives. “I needed [Schwarzenegger] to say... that until federal funding comes, he will not eliminate residual IHSS,” she said. “I still feel like I've got my same fight going.”
Evans said the administration is confident about the waiver, but she doesn't know how long it will take. “The Governor's deadline for the Legislature to vote is July 1, but we don't know if they'll vote on time,” said Evans. “Some years they meet the deadline and other years they can go to December.”
“What scares me is on July 1, I have no income,” said Lindhardt. “I'm relying on IHSS and SSI; I can't just fall back on that big nest egg,” she said.
Still on the cutting board is the hourly wage for non family-members who provide in-home care. Under the Governor's proposed budget, those workers would see their wages cut from $8.50 an hour to the state minimum wage of $6.75. Those same workers would also lose their state-funded health coverage. Turnover in the home-healthcare industry is already high, but the cuts are expected to make it even more difficult for those in need to find someone willing and qualified to do the job.
Lindhardt wonders why California doesn't take this opportunity to be a model for family values. “Isn't that what all the elected officials try to run around and say, that they support family values-‘family values, we've got to support the families'?
“Well, how are you supporting the families by ripping my son out of my home and out of my arms and putting him in an institution or requiring me to get an unqualified worker to put him in an unsafe condition while I go to work?” she said.
Democrats and advocates of home healthcare welcomed last Thursday's announcement but expressed concern about federal money and the administration's failure to address proposed salary cuts to workers.
Dan Brennan, spokesperson for State Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth said the Legislature could hand the Governor a budget that had those cuts back in it. “[IHSS is] safer now that the Governor's rescinded, but a lot of times they'll stick in a park for some guy... to get a vote here and there,” he said, noting that such pork-barrel politics could conceivably imperil IHSS funding once again.
Lindhardt doesn't know what she'll do if the politicians can't find a way to retain the program. “I'll be forced to leave the state, and this is my home,” she said. “I know how to do what I do with Trenton because I love him and I know how to take care of him and read him because I'm with him and I'm attentive to him.”
Without proper funding to care for her son, Lindhardt would have to put him in an assisted-living facility. “He's part of my family and I don't see how putting him in an institution with somebody that's paid to work in a shift can ever equate to what he gets being with his sisters and his mother,” she said.