Be Fair to Those Who Care: The Plight of In Home Supportive Services in San Diego

California Progress Report, 9/14/08 |

The San Diego County Supervisors pride themselves on being “fiscally prudent”; they often brag about it at Board meetings. At first glance, when you look at the county’s unrestricted General Fund balance of more than $1 billion, you might agree. But looks can be deceiving.

I suffer from COPD, emphysema and diabetes. I am able to remain in my own home rather than an institution, thanks to the dedication of John, a home care provider working through the In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program. To me, John is a miracle. He helps me with my treatments in addition to assisting me with the most basic things, such as dressing and going to the bathroom, which you might take for granted.

I’m one of thousands of San Diego County citizens—seniors and people with disabilities—who rely on the services of home care providers to keep us safe and secure in our own homes. Without the support of my caregiver John, I will be forced out of my home and into a long-term care facility.

Institutional care costs taxpayers six to eight times more than home care. So you would assume that our “fiscally prudent” Board of Supervisors would do all it could to support a successful home care program. But you would be wrong.

Home care providers in San Diego County earn just $9.25 per hour in wages, plus 43 cents an hour for health benefits. According to the Center on Policy Initiatives, a single person with no dependents needs a full-time job paying at least $13.71 an hour to cover basic living costs in San Diego County.

Under the IHSS program, the county is responsible for just 17.5 percent of the cost of wages and benefits paid to home care providers (the state and federal governments pick up the rest). What’s more, the money the county pays is fully reimbursed by the state and federal governments.

Home care providers are asking for just a $1.50 an hour salary increase over the next three years. Unfortunately, the Supervisors won’t budge from their original offer—made more than eight months ago—of just 44 cents an hour over three years. Bargaining negotiations have reached an impasse.

The Supervisors claim they can’t afford to pay any more. Yet Imperial County—one of the state’s poorest—recently increased home care providers’ salaries to $10.50 an hour. Imperial County has an unrestricted General Fund balance of $8.4 million—less than ONE PERCENT of San Diego County’s fund balance.

At the same time the Supervisors are digging in their heels against home care providers, entry-level county animal care attendants earn more than $15 an hour plus full benefits. Animal Care: $15 plus. People Care: $9.25. That’s just not right. And yes, I take it personally.

Our Supervisors won’t adequately support home care, even though it’s far less expensive for taxpayers than nursing home care. They won’t insure a stable homecare workforce to provide our most vulnerable citizens with the care and services they need. That’s not “fiscally prudent.” It’s penny wise and pound-foolish.