California’s War on the Elderly and Disabled: A Dispatch from the Front Lines

“Backed by anxious supporters, some on crutches or in wheelchairs, nearly two-dozen passionate speakers on Tuesday railed against “Gestapo” tactics of Stanislaus County home care fraud investigators…” Modesto Bee, Sept. 1, 2010

A flawed and mean-spirited attack by right-wing ideologues on some of California’s most vulnerable citizens has begun to sprout poisoned fruit in California’s Central Valley.

Using some of the millions of dollars distributed by the Schwarzenegger Administration in the name of fighting fraud in the In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program, Stanislaus County earlier this year created a Special Investigations Unit.  Agents from the unit have been conducting unannounced raids on homes; harassing and intimidating elderly, blind and disabled citizens; and arbitrarily cutting people’s homecare services.  

Agents-some wearing bulletproof vests-have confronted people in walkers and wheelchairs.  Two reportedly demanded to see an elderly woman’s underwear drawer. Two others forced a woman with severe Arthritis to try to lift her arm over her head (she couldn’t do it.) Several people were so traumatized by these raids that they were subsequently hospitalized.

More from the Modesto Bee:

“I’m afraid, my wife is afraid, and I don’t think people should live in fear,” recipient Donald Smith said after limping to the speaker’s rostrum. “I’m not trying to cheat the government,” he said.

Linda Ibrahim of Modesto and daughter Holly Yonan described a relative with Downs Syndrome who became terrified after he was awakened by agents who “stormed in” and searched his bedroom, Yonan said.

The 51-year-old man urinated on himself, then locked himself in a bathroom, wouldn’t come out for hours and now awakes in fear at all times of night and is afraid to leave the house, they said.

“It was a horrible experience,” Ibrahim said. “We’re not criminals. We’re decent people…”

To make matters worse, agents have claimed that many of these people are guilty of IHSS fraud and have arbitrarily reduced their homecare service hours. Administrative law judges have already overturned some of these reductions because of lack of evidence or improper procedures.  Many other cases are being appealed.

Despite this, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors voted recently to continue to spend taxpayers’ money on this program because of its “success.”

Here’s some background on how this sorry state of affairs came to pass.

Last year, Gov. Schwarzenegger launched a campaign aimed at branding the 450,000 IHSS consumers and the low-wage providers who care for them as “fraud criminals.”

Unfortunately, despite the fact that his absurd claims of “massive” fraud in IHSS (a fraud rate of 25%) remain unproven, the governor was able to force the State Legislature to appropriate tens of millions of dollars in last year’s budget for an IHSS “anti-fraud” program. Among other things, this sent millions of dollars to the counties so that they could start their own anti-fraud efforts.  

Even though the state’s anti-fraud protocols (designed by a working group dominated by administration officials and district attorneys) are not scheduled to be released for review until Sept. 16th, several counties have jumped the gun.

So far, Stanislaus has been one of the most zealous. But the county’s uniformed “fraud squad” may be a precursor of what will happen all across the state unless the public demands that these abuses stop.

In the meantime, people are still presumed innocent until proven guilty-except, it seems, in Stanislaus County