‘Breaking a Promise’: California Deficit Could Prevent Raises for Disabled Workers

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Families of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities say Gov. Gavin Newsom is reneging on a scheduled raise for workers who care for their loved ones, and advocates warn of possible lawsuits if disability services become more difficult to obtain.

Citing California’s budget deficit, the Democratic governor wants to save about US$613 million in state funds, delaying salary increases for about 150,000 caregivers for people with disabilities for a year. The state will forgo an additional $408 million in Medicaid reimbursements, reducing funding by more than $1 billion.

Some lawmakers say this decision will increase staff turnover and vacancies, leaving thousands of children and adults with disabilities without essential services at home and in residential facilities. Disability advocates warn this could violate the Lanterman ActCalifornia’s landmark law that states the state must provide services and resources to people with disabilities and their families.

Newsom is “breaking a promise,” said Felisa Strickland, 60, who has been searching for a day program for more than a year for her 23-year-old daughter, Lily, who has autism and cerebral palsy. “This is creating a lot of physical and mental health problems for people and causes a lot of undue stress for aging parent caregivers like me.”

Disability care professionals, known as direct support professionals, provide daily, hands-on care to help children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as autism, cerebral palsy and epilepsy, remain independent and integrated in their communities.

In California, more than 400,000 people people with disabilities require accommodation and this population, together with the elderly, is increasing. It’s unclear how big the worker shortage is because the state has not released data on the workforce. As demand for these workers grows overall, experts predict a shortage of between 600,000 and 3.2 million direct care workers by 2030.

Advocates say California pays most health care providers $16 to $20 per hourwhich corresponds to the state’s minimum wage, but falls short of what some economists consider a decent salary. In 2021, the state committed to increasing wages after identifying a Difference of US$ 1.8 billion between fees received by nonprofit organizations that contract with the state to provide care and fees deemed appropriate.

So far, the state has provided about half of that total, most of which has gone toward increasing wages and benefits. Workers were hoping for another raise, $2 to $4 an hour, in July until Newsom proposed a delay.

Additionally, nonprofits say California has made it harder to compete for workers after raising wages in other service and healthcare sectors. Newsom approved a $20 minimum wage for fast food workers which came into force in April and he struck a deal last year with unions and hospitals to begin raising healthcare workers’ salaries to a minimum of $25 per hour.

Ricardo Zegri said Taco Bell would pay him more than the $19 an hour he earns as a caregiver for the disabled in a supervisory position.

“Every paycheck is a discussion at home about which bills we need to prioritize and whether it’s time to start looking for a job that pays more,” said Zegri, who has a second job as a musician in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed delaying pay raises for workers who care for people with disabilities, but advocates warn that would increase turnover and vacancies, leaving thousands of people with disabilities without essential services at home and in residential facilities. (Vanessa G. Sánchez/KFF Health News)

A photo of a protester sitting and holding a sign that says:

In California, more than 400,000 people with disabilities require housing and this population, along with seniors, is growing. It’s unclear how big the health care worker shortage is because the state has not released data on the workforce. (Vanessa G. Sánchez/KFF Health News)

Newsom wants to preserve key health initiatives, including the state’s expansion of Medi-Cal to low-income immigrants regardless of legal status, and CalAIM, an ambitious $12 billion experiment to transform Medi-Cal into a health insurer and social services provider. However, the delay rate in providing disability care is the biggest savings to the Health and Human Services budget as Newsom and legislative leaders seek funding cuts, delays and changes to fill an estimated deficit between US$38 billion It is US$73 billion.

Dozens of lawmakers from both parties are calling on Newsom and legislative leaders to preserve the increase. Rep. Stephanie Nguyen, a Democrat from Elk Grove, signed a letter supporting the increase. Although lawmakers are negotiating with the government, she said it is unlikely to reverse the decision to delay the pay increase. Everyone “has to get hit somewhere,” Nguyen said.

Krystyne McComb, spokeswoman for the Department of Developmental Services, said even if the state loses federal matching funds this year, it will resume withdrawing funds when the state reinstates the plan in 2025.

The department did not respond to questions about how it plans to retain workers and fill vacancies.

Newsom’s proposal risks a collapse of the disability services system, which would violate the Lanterman Act and make the state vulnerable to lawsuits, said Jordan Lindsey, executive director of Arc of California, a statewide advocacy organization. of the disabled.

Families say the state no longer has the services they need. Strickland quit his job to care for Lily, the Santa Barbara mother said. “It’s not reasonable to expect someone to care for someone else 24/7,” she said.

Lily graduated from high school and in 2022 completed a program that prepares young people with disabilities for the transition to adulthood. She was eager to join a day program to make new friends, but hasn’t found a place yet. And due to a lack of workers, Lily only gets four hours a week at home with a provider, who earns about $16 an hour.

When Lily dates the provider, her demeanor changes to the happy person she used to be, Strickland said.

“The system is already in crisis,” she said. “There are tons and tons of people sitting at home because there is nowhere to go.”

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