Advocates for the elderly say that up to 25,000 impoverished senior citizens could be evicted from board-and-care facilities statewide under regulations proposed this month by officials at the California Department of Social Services.
The regulations would effectively abolish restrictions on the fees that private residential care facilities can charge elderly recipients of Supplemental Security Income. Under current regulations, such facilities can charge SSI recipients only $650 per month.
"It's outrageous that a department charged with protecting the rights of the elderly would make this move," said Kathleen Lammers of the San Francisco-based California Law Center on Long-term Care. "It makes poor people pay for something they can't afford and puts an at-risk population at even greater risk."
State officials say the new regulations are necessary because private residential facilities--which provide housing and 24-hour supervision for senior citizens--can no longer afford to house SSI recipients. There are about 43,000 such facilities statewide, housing 100,000 people, a third of them SSI clients.
The proposed regulations would also allow relatives to supplement a resident's SSI income and pay for better treatment, something now prohibited, officials said. Those who could not pay the increased fees charged by the facility could be evicted.
"We think it is unlikely that there will be wholesale evictions," said William Jordan, chief of the department's Community Care Licensing Division.
Market forces will balance out the supply of, and demand for, board-and-care facilities to the indigent, he said.
"At the top end, facilities will be encouraged to accept more residents who are SSI supported," Jordan said. "The lower-end facilities would then be competing for a smaller pool of residents. It seems to me unlikely that they would evict those (clients) they have left."
Jordan's contentions are angrily disputed by the advocates.
"The people in board-and-care facilities are in the last home available to them before the streets," said Pam McGovern, executive director of the Orange County Council on Aging's Ombudsman Program. "If they are charged a supplemental fee, they will ultimately be homeless."
McGovern said that up to 1,800 senior citizens could be evicted in Orange County and several thousand more in Los Angeles County.
The rules would be implemented administratively and do not require legislative approval, Jordan said. The department held public hearings on the proposals this month in Berkeley, Sacramento and Los Angeles.
Department officials must submit the regulations for final approval to the Office of Administrative Law, which will decide whether the rules comply with state law.
Most SSI recipients have no relatives who can step in and help them pay supplemental fees, the advocates said. SSI recipients are, by definition, poor. State law allows SSI applicants to have no more than $2,000 in savings and to have outside monthly income--pensions and other retirement benefits--no greater than $650.
The proposed regulations allow facilities "to raise the rates to any level they choose," said Eric M. Carlson, an attorney with the Bet Tzedek House of Justice in Los Angeles.
The revisions are supported by the Community Residential Care Assn. of California and other industry groups.
Charles Skoien, a lobbyist for the association, said current regulations make it difficult for board-and-care facilities to turn a profit.
"These people (the facility operators) give their lives to love and care for people," Skoien said.
Skoien conceded that some senior citizens may be evicted if the regulations are implemented, but added: "We've been promised by the larger facilities and the smaller ones that they will take their fair share of people who don't have a relative or a loved one to make the supplemental payments."