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New Evidence of Seniors’ Vulnerability

Kathryn Kietzman and other researchers from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research conducted a series of interviews with California seniors and their families over a one-year period. Their ongoing monitoring yielded worrisome results, Kietzman said — particularly seeing the effect on those seniors of a number of seemingly small budget cuts.

“Even those seniors with low-level needs were strongly affected by these cuts,” Kietzman said, referring primarily to a 3.6% reduction in In-Home Supportive Services and also to a cutback in monthly Supplemental Security Income and State Supplementary Payments. “What we saw was a culmination of sometimes little cuts, sometimes bigger cuts,” she said. “Many times we follow these things at the policy level, but [here] we’ve seen changes at the individual level, particularly for people with chronic care conditions.”

Those cutbacks don’t begin to compare with the state’s trigger cut of 20% of IHSS care, and a state-estimated halving of service to people currently receiving adult day health care services, Kietzman said.

A judge recently issued a temporary restraining order to stop the IHSS trigger cuts, for now. That case is expected to be heard in court Dec. 15.

The planned cutbacks in ADHC and IHSS services could swamp this particular population, according to study co-author Steven Wallace.

“Last year it was more of an erosion of services. The cuts to SSI were difficult, but modest. The cuts to IHSS were tough, but modest,” Wallace said. “Now, if part of this population totally loses some of these other benefits, that’s not an erosion. That’s a cliff.”

Wallace said legislators who passed these budget cuts may not have looked at the cumulative impact of cutbacks.

“At the policy level, they look at each program in isolation,” he said. “They say, gee, this program is expensive, we can cut that back a little. And this ADHC program costs a lot, we can cut that back.”

But those policy decisions are flawed, he said. “What they don’t realize is one individual maybe relies on two or three or four of [these programs]. It’s like you’re pulling on multiple threads [of the safety net],” he said.

Seniors are not the only ones to take the hit, Kietzman said. “The other thing is the effect on the families,” she said. “They need a few hours of that care so they can go to work. That’s an additional stressor that will be difficult to handle.”

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