The Story of the Governor And IHSS
As the budget talks stall, let's bore in on what new items the Governor has recently proposed. Out of nowhere last week, he called for policy changes as a condition for agreeing to covering the full budget deficit. He can call them budget-related, or part of the "reform" agenda, but that's a lie. He added new issues into the negotiations, and Karen Bass was right to call him out for it.
Among those new items was this call to "root out fraud" in several programs, including IHSS, Cal-Works and Medi-Cal. The Governor claims that implementing programs to end this fraud would save the state $500 million dollars a year - meaning it would take 14-16 years for this program fix to cover the wasted money caused by his intransigence in refusing the stop-gap fix last week, which lead to the issuance of IOUs. On top of that, those numbers are overstated, and changing eligibility standards is a complex, costly process that will neither improve customer service or even reduce an already-low error rate.
The Governor's response to these comments is that Democrats are somehow protecting union allies and the status quo. If that's the case, what to make of this fact:
In April of THIS YEAR, Democrat Bonnie Lowenthal introduced AB682, which would investigate fraud in the IHSS program. Here's the analysis of the bill:
1) Requires that, beginning January 1, 2010, DSS dedicate two positions to evaluate implementation of five specific anti-fraud provisions of the Welfare and Institutions Code related to the IHSS program and authorizes DSS to fill the positions either by using existing resources or, if an appropriation is provided for that purpose, by adding new positions.
2) Requires DSS, in consultation with the state Department of Health Care Services, the district attorney in the county with the largest caseload, and stakeholders, including IHSS consumers and providers, to provide a report to the Legislature by December 31, 2010, which shall do all of the following with respect to IHSS-related fraud:
a) Identify the magnitude of fraud in terms of the total dollars inappropriately spent or removed from the program, and the number of consumers harmed or placed at risk of harm as a result of fraudulent activity, through instances resulting in a fraud conviction between January 1, 2005 and January 1, 2010;
b) Identify the number of people involved in fraud for each of the following categories: IHSS providers, IHSS consumers, state workers, county workers, and others. In the case of "others," the report shall describe the function of the persons committing fraud with specificity but without revealing personal identifying information; and,
c) Provide recommendations on the best means to combat IHSS fraud.
It may interest you to know how the Assembly voted on the bill. In the Human Services Committee, the Democrats voted yes, the Republicans NO. In Appropriations, all Democrats voted yes, all Republicans NO. The final floor vote went 49-28, with three abstentions. EVERY SINGLE REPUBLICAN VOTED NO except for Paul Cook, who abstained.
The ostensible reason for the Yacht Party united front against the bill? It costs $350,000 to hire two new employees at the Department of Social Services, and give them a budget to look into fraud at the IHSS. To pursue fraud that the Governor says would save the state $500 million a year.
This is basically what you do in government. You learn of a problem, you study it, and then you implement potential fixes for the problem. IHSS fraud was brought up as a problem in April, and Bonnie Lowenthal sought to fix it. The Governor waited around for a few months, then barged in and said Democrats, who were taking the steps to fix the problem, were safeguarding public employees, and that anti-fraud measures must be taken immediately in conjunction with an unrelated budget deficit.
The only fraud here is the Governor. He's tried to cut IHSS funding since the day he entered office. The Assembly passed a "quality assurance" provision in 2004 to ensure that the program ran smoothly, and the county investigations were kicked up to the state, and then the Governor NEVER FUNDED THE NEW POSITIONS for investigators to look over the county referrals. Small wonder a lot of cases with no action ensued.
In the final analysis, the Governor is doing what he has done multiple times in the past - attempting to cheat the needy out of lawful care and services instead of doing the politically unpalatable work of cutting programs. He'd rather reduce costs by making it virtually impossible for enrollees to stay eligible. It's cowardly and craven.
That's our Arnold.