California in-home care program thrust into budget debate

Leona Heydenryk, 92, is already imagining how she will manage, hauling one grocery bag out of her car, pushing it to her home on her rolling walker and then inhaling from her oxygen tank before going back for the second bag.

If the budget cuts that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed go through, the Grass Valley senior will have to make other contingency plans. Social workers say she will score too well on a "functional index" to merit the part-time services of Consuelo Lopez, who helps her shop, clean house, do laundry and prepare meals to keep on hand.

"I'm anxious to get up the days she comes because I know she's coming. She's my mainstay, I guess," Heydenryk said. Her daughter died of cancer years ago, and her son, 69, is also frail and on a limited income and dialysis in Santa Rosa.

California's In-Home Supportive Services program, which pays caregivers of seniors such as Heydenryk or disabled people, is the state's fastest growing social service program. Its costs reached nearly $1.7 billion this year – a distinction that put it squarely in the middle of the battle over California's budget crisis.

Under pressure to protect the program's integrity and prevent waste, state welfare officials say they're hoping to hire more investigators and adopting new technology to cross-check records to crack down on theft.

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