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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Proposition 30's Impact Beyond Education Into Health Care

Paige Brettingen |
November 29, 2012 | 4:23 p.m. PST

Managing Editor

Sonia Ortiz (right) awaits news about Prop 30 at Dodger Stadium during election night (Francesca Martens/Neon Tommy)
Sonia Ortiz (right) awaits news about Prop 30 at Dodger Stadium during election night (Francesca Martens/Neon Tommy)

As the polls neared closing time on election night, Sonia Ortiz nervously eyed one of the TVs at Dodger Stadium for news about Proposition 30, wondering whether the hundreds of phone calls she made to drum up extra votes would pay off.

Ortiz worked for Prop 30’s passage to help assure more funding for education for her grandchildren as they enter elementary school. But the 50-year-old adult-caregiver could benefit from a spillover effect: the prospect of continued funding for eldercare programs.

“The schools’ budget was going to have such an across the board effect on general fund programs,” said Dr. Donna Benton, director of the L.A. Caregiver Resource Center. “We’re one of those, so it helps anything in health and human services," she said.

SEE ALSO: How California's Budget Crisis Screws Social Services

Proposition 30, which passed with 54 percent of the vote, will prevent deeper cuts to public education by raising taxes on residents earning above $250,000 over the next seven years and increasing California’s sales tax by a quarter of a cent for four years. Benton is hopeful that with more public education funding - particularly the 11 percent of tax revenue that is supposed to go to community colleges - more resources and education will be offered to the estimated 6 million caregivers in California who provide assistance to the elderly and disabled, many of whom are their own family members.

As a whole, assistance programs for the elderly have been threatened by significant cuts over the past year.

 In addition to downsizing aid for adult day care centers, Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2012-2013 budget proposed a 20 percent cut to In-Home Supportive Services as well as complete elimination of funding - all $2.9 million of it - for caregiver resource centers.

Caregiver advocates successfully petitioned against the cuts to resource centers and had funding restored in June.

Benton, who also is an assistant research professor of gerontology at USC, argues that caregivers are a smart investment that the state can’t afford to marginalize. It risks more expenses in the long run if families place their aging relatives in nursing homes in lieu of caregiving, she said.

“Overall if the state is really looking for long-term care services [for the elderly], they have to look at family members as an integral part of that long-term system,” said Benton.

SEE ALSO: Community Advocates Call Brown's Budget Horrific

Ortiz became a caregiver 17 years ago, leaving her job as a housekeeper to care for her mother who was disabled after having open-heart surgery.

“The biggest challenge is patience,” said Ortiz. “I have to remind my mom that we’re a team. I’m here to help.”

She also works 24 hours a week for another elderly client - running errands, doing laundry, preparing meals and driving to doctor appointments.

Ortiz went through a caregiver training program 10 years ago through the Service Employees International Union, which she now belongs to. 

The SEIU provides her with health insurance, something Ortiz is especially grateful for because the majority of the state’s caregivers go without insurance.

According to a study from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research published in April, almost half of California's 450,000 paid caregivers– and of those, 57 percent of the 290,000 paid Medi-Cal caregivers– do not have health care and are in poverty or near poverty.  

The study found that paid Medi-Cal caregivers worked an average of 43 hours per week with an approximate monthly income of $1,970, or a little more than $11 per hour. The state’s median hourly wage was $18.13 in 2010 when the study was conducted.

Benton is working with the California Work and Family Coalition to address the issue of poverty among caregivers. She believes that one significant step would be to extend the family-leave law to all family caregivers. That would allow paid sick days for working people who also are caring for a family member.

SEE ALSO: One In Three Americans Now Considered 'Near Poor'

"Many low-income people are in positions where they have to choose between taking care of their loved ones and a day’s pay,” Benton said. “Having to make that choice certainly impacts our low-income caregivers and makes it difficult for them to be the safety net rather than the state.”

Another way to lift caregivers out of poverty is to provide more access to education, especially at community colleges.

“Anything that keeps aging education programs at community colleges will impact caregivers in positive ways,” Benton said.

One way it can help is by providing caregivers with additional training in serving patients who have complex health issues.

Ortiz is currently enrolled in an advanced course at the SEIU where she’s learning specialized care for patients with multiple disabilities and cooking for patients with diabetes.

“It’s hard work, but I am very proud to do this job,” Ortiz said. “Learning more will always make things better.”


Find more Neon Tommy coverage on Proposition 30 here.

Reach Managing Editor Paige Brettingen here. Follow her here.



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