Families, caregivers oppose DSHS budget cuts that could take help away from 20,000

By Alexis Krell

The News Tribune

Proposed cuts to the Washington state Department of Social and Health Services would mean thousands of elderly people and those with disabilities would lose long-term care services, legislators heard this week.

DSHS leaders, families and caregivers spoke last Wednesday at a virtual work session of the Joint Legislative Executive Committee on Planning for Aging and Disability Issues.

The Office of Financial Management asked state agencies to propose potential cuts earlier this year, in response to the budget shortfall caused by the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the economy.

Assistant Secretary Bill Moss of the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration, and Assistant Secretary Evelyn Perez of the Developmental Disabilities Administration talked about what those cuts would look like for their programs, which are the largest at DSHS. They would amount to more than $1 billion.

“To get to the numbers that we need to reach, we’re talking about making approximately 12,000 clients ineligible for services,” Moss told the committee. “… These are folks who at a minimum need assistance with activities of daily living.”

Perez said at the Developmental Disabilities Administration the cuts would mean about a fourth of clients, 8,100, would lose all services and supports.

The programs account for about 10 percent of the state’s operating budget, and 95 percent of that money is for “direct client services.”

Of DSHS’s $13.9 billion budget, the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration gets $6.5 billion. The Developmental Disabilities Administration gets $3.7 billion.

“If something like this were to occur, we can expect further stressing family caregivers and family friends that provide informal supports,” Moss said of the budget proposal. “We’re going to see more hospital ER visits and admissions, institutional care.”

He told legislators homelessness and incarceration would be expected to increase.

Asked how things might proceed as the state gets a better sense of where it stands financially, Moss told the committee they’d been asked to shoot for a 15-percent cut to their supplemental budget, and asked again for a 15-percent target for the biennium.

“We haven’t had conversations about what a smaller reduction would look like,” he said. “… We’ll see what the November (state revenue) forecast looks like.”

Perez and Moss also said the preliminary proposed cuts would mean reduced service provider rates as well as furloughs, and cuts of state workers.

SEIU 775 said in a press release that “DSHS’s proposed 2021-2023 budget cuts $1.1 billion in long-term care services for the elderly and people with disabilities.”

The union said that would mean more than 10,000 seniors and people with disabilities would lose home care services, and that more than 2,800 “will be kicked out of the nursing home where they live.”

SEIU 775 also said 10,000 in-home caregivers would lose their jobs, and those who keep their full-time jobs would lose about $1,300 a year in wages and benefits.

Shelly Hughes, a Bellingham nursing home worker and union member, told the committee: “The middle of the pandemic is the worst time” for such cuts in the “already struggling nursing home industry.”

“Most caregivers in nursing homes are women of color, and many of us are working without affordable health care,” she said.

A Gig Harbor woman spoke about her fears of what will happen to her 32-year-old son, who lives with Down Syndrome, when she is no longer able to care for him.

“I realized that I’m not alone,” she said. “There are a lot of people out there like me, aging parents who are caring for a loved one.”

She said she thinks it’ll be easier to find services for herself, as someone who is aging, than for him.

“There are not enough supportive housing options available,” she said. “… There are not enough trained care providers.”

She argued the 15-percent proposed cut would really be more, when factoring in matching funds from the federal government.

She asked legislators to use the rainy day funds to reduce cuts “to prevent a public health crisis for our loved ones with developmental disabilities.”

A man in the 34th Legislative District, which includes Vashon Island, West Seattle and Burien, talked about living with his 91-year-old grandmother.

Last month they got a letter that their landlord is selling their home.

“This is very sad for us, because I’ve lived with my grandparents my entire life,” he said. “… They used to be my caregivers.”

He lives with cerebral palsy, he said. After his grandfather passed away, he started caring for his grandmother.

“We help each other out,” he said. “… I have asked for senior housing for my grandmother, but because I’m only 44 I would not be able to live with her.”

They’re looking at options daily.

“I would be against any cuts for the state,” he said.