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Judge bars state cuts to 130,000 in-home care recipients

Injunction prevents California from enacting planned budget cuts of $82.1 million in services to elderly and infirm resident.

October 20, 2009|Shane Goldmacher

SACRAMENTO — A federal judge Monday blocked California from cutting in-home care for 130,000 elderly and disabled state residents whose services would have been reduced or eliminated Nov. 1.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland issued a preliminary injunction against $82.1 million in cuts, siding with the plaintiffs' argument in a class-action lawsuit that the state's method of determining whose services would be affected was unfair.

"We're very relieved," said Melinda Bird, senior counsel for Disability Rights California and an attorney in the case.

The state pays for aides to cook, clean, shop and perform other services to assist the elderly or infirm so they can remain in their homes rather than be forced into nursing homes or other facilities. The Legislature and governor cut $263.5 million in such services from the state budget in July.

The ruling is the latest to affect the state budget. Activists have filed multiple legal challenges seeking to reverse billions in various program cuts made this summer. Budget analysts anticipate that several will succeed, further straining the state's precarious finances.

Wilken's decision -- a victory not only for disability advocates but also for the unions that represent in-home workers -- follows her ruling in a separate case last summer that blocked cuts to home-care workers' wages. The state is appealing that ruling.

Before Monday's court ruling, an estimated 36,000 were to have their home services eliminated. Another 97,000 would have had them reduced. The program serves approximately 462,000 Californians.

The plaintiffs argued in court that the state's system to determine whose aid would be slashed was not an accurate or fair measurement of recipients' needs. The judge agreed.

Wilken ordered the state to send letters to caregivers and to the 130,000 recipients who faced cutbacks to assure them that services would continue, said Stacey Leyton, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys.

But implementing the court's order poses a logistical nightmare for the state, which has already programmed the cuts into its computer payroll.

"The payroll system is really complicated," said Lizelda Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services. "We're looking at all of the options that we have. We will find a way" to comply.

Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Assn., said state officials told him the burden could fall on counties. But counties, he said, would be strained to manually enter changes for 130,000 recipients on such short notice.

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shane.goldmacher@latimes.com

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