Settlement reduces cuts to California services

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California State Capitol

California State Capitol

After four years of litigation and two class-action lawsuits, the state of California and a coalition of disability advocacy groups and unions announced a legal settlement March 19 that lessens the amount of planned cuts to the state’s home health care and daily living services.

The settlement allows the state to temporarily reduce hours for services from its In-Home Support Services program by 8 percent in July 2013. The service hours will be reduced to a seven percent cut the next year, before being fully restored in July 2015.

The cuts, however, represent a decrease from the state’s original plan to cut services by as much as 20 percent.

“This looming cloud of huge cuts is gone. It helps everybody move forward,” Melinda Bird, litigation director for Disability Rights California, told the Los Angeles Times.

The state legislature voted to slash services by 20 hours in 2009, prompting a class-action lawsuit from  Disability Rights California, the Disability Rights Legal Center, the National Health Law Program and the National Senior Citizen Law Center. The lawsuit accused the state of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act’s integration mandate, which requires states to provide services ensuring people with disabilities can live in the least restricted settings according to their needs.

The Supreme Court upheld the integration mandate in its 1999 decision Olmstead v. L.C, when it found that the unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities violates their rights under the Equal Protection Clause.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California later that year blocked the cuts from going into effect. In granting the advocacy groups’ request for a preliminary injunction, the court also found the plaintiffs would likely succeed on their argument that the state violated the due process rights of the program’s recipients by failing to adequately notify them of the planned changes.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit proceeded to hear arguments in the case.

Meanwhile, the state legislature against voted to cut services by 20 percent in 2011. The advocacy groups responded by filing a second class-action lawsuit and again convinced the court to halt the cuts.

“The uncertainty of the IHSS cuts was always in the back of my mind.  If the cuts had gone into effect,” said David Oster, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, in a DRC news release. “I was worried that I would lose all my hours and not be able to stay in my home. The temporary cuts will be hard, but I know I will be able to remain at home and that is a relief.”

Disability Rights California is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.