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In-home Services Challenged

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Video published February 12, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: We discuss another accusation against a $5 billion social program the state wants to cut. This time allegations government checks are being issued to dead people.

JOANNE FARYON (Host): There are more allegations this week about the misuse of funds for a social program that helps the disabled and elderly. In-home care is a five billion dollar program that helps with day-to-day living – chores like housekeeping, personal care, and grocery shopping. The latest scandal involves making payments to dead people. Are the allegations true or is the state on a mission to discredit the program – a program the Governor says he no longer wants to pay for. Amita Sharma has been covering the story and she joins me now. Hello Amita.

AMITA SHARMA (KPBS News): Hello Joanne.

FARYON: So let’s begin with this latest set of allegations that people who no longer are living were receiving payments. Is it true?

SHARMA: Not according to counties. Let me give you a little bit of background. State Controller John Chiang has said that the state and counties made payments in the year 2008 totaling $11 million to people listed as dead. In the case of San Diego County, they said this county made payments in 2008 totaling $540,000 to people listed as dead. This county has shot back and said that’s absolutely not true – that for 2008 we made payments to two people listed as dead totaling $10,000 not $540,000 and that indeed those two checks were cashed. But, the people who cashed those checks were prosecuted and eventually plead guilty.

FARYON: So has anyone offered an explanation for the discrepancy? $540,000 compared to making payments to two people?

SHARMA: Well counties say that first of all the State Controller’s methodology to arrive at his findings was highly flawed and that the other discrepancies were basically based on clerical errors. And had the State Controller come to the counties with his findings before he issued a press release to the news media, the record could have been corrected. As it stands right now, the counties do want the record corrected anyway even though the news has gone out. But the State Controller says we stand by our data.

FARYON: So this isn’t the first time there have been allegations of fraud in this program. You’ve done some reporting on this over the past several months. What else did the state accuse the program of being guilty of?

SHARMA: Well last summer Governor Schwarzenegger held a press conference in which he alleged massive fraud within in-home supportive services. He said that the fraud rate could be as high as 25 percent. We took a look at the numbers based on proven complaints, and it looks like the fraud rate is around 5 percent.

FARYON: Now, as a result of this the state also said we’re going to go out on inspections. And you interviewed a man who was a subject of one of those inspections for fraud.

SHARMA: Right. Well, Michael Condon has been a quadriplegic for about 30 years. He’s been in the program for about 30 years. Late last year he got a phone message from a state investigator saying that Mr. Condon needed to call him back immediately or his services were going to be terminated. Condon called him back and was told that the investigator would come out the next day. And here’s Mr. Condon describing what happened when the investigator came out.

MICHAEL CONDON (In-Home Supportive Services Recipient): He showed up probably within 15 minutes and identified himself as a state police, showed me his identification and basically kind of apologized for having to threaten me. He said that he was here to do an investigation and my name had been randomly selected and that he thought that considering my condition that my case probably shouldn’t have been selected. So he’s kind of apologetic. He asked to see my worker’s identification and told me that he'd recently been taken from the investigation team that investigates nursing home fraud. And it just felt like it was some kind of intimidation, really. It was very unpleasant.

FARYON: Was there any evidence of fraud with regard to Mr. Condon’s case?

SHARMA: No, there was not.

FARYON: None. So, there are cynics out there who will ask whether these accusations is really an attempt to discredit a service that the government has said, “We don’t want to continue to pay for.” Or whether or not it’s a real effort to eliminate fraud. Have you heard people say this with regard to this program throughout your reporting?

SHARMA: Well, Gov. Schwarzenegger in next year’s budget is proposing to terminate In-Home Supportive Services unless the federal government gives him or gives California $7 billion. That’s unlikely to happen. So disabled activists and people within county Social Services across the state are saying the state politicians are trying to damage the reputation of In-Home Supportive Services so that if deep cuts are made or the program is ended, there will be less public outrage.

FARYON: Thank-you Amita Sharma.

SHARMA: Thank-you.

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