Federal threat over budget move
The Obama administration is threatening to rescind billions of dollars in federal stimulus money if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers do not restore wage cuts to unionized home healthcare workers approved in February as part of the budget.
Schwarzenegger’s office was advised this week by federal health officials that the wage reduction, which will save California $74 million, violates provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Failure to revoke the scheduled wage cut before it takes effect July 1 could cost California $6.8 billion in stimulus money, according to state officials.
The news comes as state lawmakers are already facing a severe cash crisis, with the state at risk of running out of money in July.
The wages at issue involve workers who care for some 440,000 low-income disabled and elderly Californians. The workers, who collectively contribute millions of dollars in dues each month to the influential Service Employees International Union and the United Domestic Workers, will see the state’s contribution to their wages cut from a maximum of $12.10 per hour to a maximum of $10.10.
The SEIU said in a statement that it had asked the Obama administration for the ruling.
The cut was highly contentious during last winter’s budget talks. Republican lawmakers insisted that the rapidly growing, multibillion-dollar state program, In Home Supportive Services, be scaled back significantly.
Democrats fought major reductions in the program, which they say is a cost-effective alternative to nursing-home care, but ultimately compromised.
Reversing the wage cut would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, meaning Republican support would be needed.
Schwarzenegger on Wednesday sent U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius a letter urging the federal government to reconsider.
“Neither the Legislature nor I make decisions to reduce wages or benefits lightly, but only as a last resort in response to an unprecedented fiscal crisis,” Schwarzenegger wrote.
Times staff writer Eric Bailey contributed to this report.