The Assembly and Senate held an oversight hearing yesterday regarding the administration’s continuing implementation of IHSS changes adopted as part of the FY 2009-2010 budget, affecting 460,000 IHSS consumers and 385,000 IHSS providers. After two contentious hearings in the past few months, we heard encouraging news that the administration is starting to work with stakeholders and improve its approach.
When the first changes to IHSS took effect on November 1 for the enrollment of new IHSS providers, there was great confusion about how the new enrollment procedures would work. Our hearings revealed that this was the result of poor, conflicting, and late communications from the Department of Social Services (DSS). Further information is here.
As a result of our oversight hearings, DSS has developed a more collaborative working relationship with counties and it has begun more meaningful stakeholder consultations. This is encouraging news, especially since more program changes loom just around the corner.
But we are not out of the woods yet. We continue to face new challenges:
• New provider requirements - The number of providers in "pending" status (those who have begun the enrollment process, but not yet completed it), totals 20,172. Only 9,556 providers have completed the process. The gap between providers who have and haven't met the requirements is growing wider every passing day. In order to meet demand, 385,000 current providers need to complete this process by June 30. Based on our experience to date, this looks unrealistic.
• Governor wants IHSS consumers photographed – The governor’s 2010-2011 budget proposes to buy Polaroid cameras to photograph IHSS consumers in order to prevent fraud. New changes to the law require fingerprinting of IHSS consumers as of April 1, but because the administration is unable to implement this requirement on a timely basis, the governor proposes to photograph all consumers in the meantime. As I said at the hearing, IHSS consumers are entitled to a measure of privacy and the law at this time does not require photographing; my budget committee will look skeptically at this proposal.
• IHSS consumers and providers are being harassed – Nancy Riley, an IHSS provider from San Diego, told the committee that an armed state investigator recently conducted a surprise anti-fraud visit to her client’s home. The investigator aggressively interrogated them and threatened to revoke her client’s IHSS services. Since the law allows anti-fraud visits to occur only after protocols are developed with stakeholder involvement, which has not begun, the committee had serious questions about this incident and we are investigating it.
With these and other significant issues to work through, it was constructive to hear DSS representatives make the following points in their testimony.
• John Wagner, Director of DSS, announced that the department will conduct a stakeholder process to provide opportunities for the IHSS community to engage the department on the issues raised at the hearing. He also announced that DSS will soon offer the Legislature budget trailer bill language relating to IHSS implementation challenges. After his department lobbied the Senate to oppose SB 69 which would have resolved these problems last year, I look forward to seeing their ideas.
• Eva Lopez, Deputy Director of Adult Programs at DSS, also announced that new materials relating to IHSS program changes will be posted on the department’s website to improve information access and transparency.
My bottom line in this discussion is that the mistakes of the past must be avoided so that all will be prepared for the significant changes to come in IHSS. The IHSS community needs to know that the ball won’t be dropped again.
Access to IHSS cannot be jeopardized needlessly because of bureaucratic fumbling. That is not reform. It’s a formula for creating a crisis that preys on the vulnerable who have a right to receive these services.
We won’t agree on everything. But we do need to work together openly and honestly. I look forward to seeing a more transparent and collaborative process in the months ahead, with better program outcomes for all involved.
All materials produced by the Assembly Budget Committee for this hearing are available here.