Karlyn Echols has a caregiver come to her apartment in Ralston Towers in Modesto to help her dress, bathe, clean the apartment, cook and take her to run errands.
Echols, 69, once worked as a private investigator, but her ulcers required surgery to remove half her stomach and the arthritis in her knees makes it almost impossible to walk, she said.
Caregiver Chelsie Guillette is with her for seven hours a day, Monday through Friday, through In-Home Supportive Services, a state program that provides caregivers in the homes of 446,500 seniors and disabled people in California.
Gov. Schwarzenegger has proposed budget cuts that would eliminate or reduce the services for most of those people. The cuts are intended to preserve the services for those who are most in need, while saving the state $863.7 million for its budget year that starts July 1.
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Caregivers such as Guillette would take a cut in pay, from $9.15 an hour to $8.60. Guillette has been working 12 to 13 hours a day, caring for a quadriplegic man in the mornings before going to Echols' apartment.
"What are all the seniors and disabled people supposed to do?" said Echols, who often uses an electric wheelchair. "I can barely walk from my bed to the bathroom."
The state Department of Social Services says IHSS enrollment was expected to increase to 462,000 next year and an estimated 58,000 participants still would receive help under the cost-saving plan. If the state budget is approved by July 1, the cuts would go into effect in October.
Stanislaus County officials have more dire predictions if the cuts are approved to help close the $24 billion state budget gap. About 95 percent of the 6,037 people in the IHSS program in Stanislaus County would lose services, leaving about 300 in the program.
The services would continue for people most in need of help based on a functionality index used to evaluate program participants once a year. Those who need help with most daily chores and activities would keep their caregivers; so would severely disabled clients who need help with any activity.
"If these cuts go through, a good percentage of the people in the program would go to nursing homes," said Egon Stammler, assistant director of adult services for the county. "They rely on this kind of care to stay at home safely."
In previous budget years, Schwarzenegger has proposed severe social services cuts that never got past the Legislature's Democratic majority, but to balance the budget this time, county officials are concerned that some bitter pills will have to be swallowed.
By providing assistance in their homes, the state has avoided the cost of expensive nursing home care, which can cost 4½ times more than the $13,000 a year spent on the average IHSS client, Stamm-ler said. People able to stay in their homes also have better emotional health and respond more readily to medical care, he said.
As of Friday, it was unclear how the cuts would affect Echols. She didn't know where she falls on the functionality spectrum, and the county's Community Services Agency said it was bound by confidentiality rules.
Echols was recovering from knee surgery this week and has more treatment scheduled for her ailing joints.
Velma Berkhousen, another resident of Ralston Towers, could be in greater danger of losing her caregiver, who is there three days a week to change her bedding, wash her clothes and clean the apartment.
Berkhousen, 93, cooks her own meals and is able to get around with a walker.
"I think it's awful," she said of the proposed cuts. "Our generation made this country. I am not happy with this."
From her small apartment, Echols has done what she can to raise awareness about the proposed cuts. She has urged other residents of Ralston Towers, a senior housing complex, to air their concerns by calling politicians such as state Sens. David Cogdill, R-Modesto, and Jeff Denham, R-Atwater.
"A lot of people in Ralston Towers have caregivers and they don't know what they are going to do," Echols said.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.