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Lawsuit seeks to block cuts to in-home care for the elderly and disabled

October 1, 2009 |  2:09 pm

Advocates for the elderly and disabled announced Thursday that they have filed a federal lawsuit in San Francisco to block cuts to California’s home care program, a month before more than 130,000 recipients are scheduled to have their services reduced or eliminated.

State lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved a July budget deal that sliced $263.5 million from the program, which pays for aides to cook, clean, shop and provide other services that allow the elderly or infirm to live in their homes rather than in facilities such as nursing homes.

The advocates are asking for an injunction before letters go out later this month to the 36,000 Californians whose aid would be eliminated and an additional estimated 97,000 who would lose some services. The cuts are set to go in effect on Nov. 1.

Melinda Bird, senior counsel for Disability Rights California, accused the state of trying “to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and those with disabilities.”

Officials plan to cut services to those with the lowest scores on a scale measuring recipients’ needs. But Bird called the scoring method “arbitrary, irrational and unfair.”

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), who helped craft the budget, appeared somewhat supportive of the lawsuit.

“Democratic legislators have repeatedly fought efforts by Republicans, including, the governor, to dismantle this important program,” she said in an e-mailed statement. “The courts having an opportunity to weigh in on how we serve elderly and disabled Californians could prompt a responsible approach from all sides."

The Schwarzenegger administration plans to fight the suit, said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Department of Finance.

The home aide program serves approximately 462,000 Californians.

-- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento

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