Reporting from Sacramento — The budget package that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Friday restricts violent felons from working in the state's home healthcare program for the elderly and disabled.
The new rules follow a Times report last month that scores of people convicted of crimes such as rape, elder abuse and assault with a deadly weapon are permitted to care for some of California's most vulnerable residents through the In-Home Supportive Services program. The changes take effect in 90 days.
Under existing law, only a history of specific types of child abuse, elder abuse and defrauding of public assistance programs can disqualify a person from working in the program. But not all perpetrators of even those crimes can be blocked.
The existing regulations also prevent government investigators who learn through background checks that a caregiver has a history of felony convictions from alerting a recipient in whose home the felon is working.
The new rules change that. Under AB 1612 and SB 856, drafted by a legislative committee, the state is broadening the felony convictions that may disqualify a person from working in the program. A care recipient will be informed that the worker has been disqualified and told why.
"This appears to be a major, necessary step forward to address the safety of vulnerable elderly and disabled Californians," said Eileen Carroll, deputy director of the Adult Programs Division of the California Department of Social Services. "It gives us important new tools to ensure that serious and violent felons can be excluded from providing care in this program."
Under the proposal, recipients may sign a waiver to allow a felon to care for them, as long as the conviction was not for child abuse, elder abuse or welfare fraud. The waiver provision was added at the insistence of activists concerned that people in need not lose a trusted provider for a dated conviction on a minor offense.
The activists also noted that many of the people employed by the program are being paid to care for relatives or close friends who would choose to keep them regardless of their criminal history.
"This was a good compromise," said Jovan Agee, political director of UDW Homecare Providers Union/AFSCME, which represents tens of thousands of In-Home Supportive Services employees. "It enhances the integrity of the program."