SACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — On Friday, Sept. 24, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sent the following letter to legislative leaders urging them to take immediate action to bar felons convicted of theft, rape and other serious crimes from providing unsupervised care in a recipient’s private home under the state’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program:

September 24, 2010

The Honorable Darrell Steinberg
President pro Tempore
California State Senate
State Capitol
Room 205
Sacramento, California 95814

The Honorable Dennis Hollingsworth
Republican Leader
California State Senate
State Capitol
Room 305
Sacramento, California 95814

The Honorable John A. Pérez
California State Assembly
State Capitol
Post Office Box 942849
Sacramento, California 94249

The Honorable Martin Garrick
Republican Leader
California State Assembly
State Capitol
Sacramento, California 95814

Dear Senator Steinberg, Senator Hollingsworth, Speaker Pérez and Mr. Garrick,

There is a public safety crisis threatening the vulnerable recipients of the state’s in-home care program, In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), and the Legislature must act swiftly before these individuals are harmed in their own homes.

In 2009, we enacted a series of IHSS reforms to address fraud, waste and abuse in the program and ensure the benefits are going only to those who genuinely need them. One of the basic reforms was to require IHSS caregivers to undergo criminal background checks before they go into the private homes of elderly or disabled individuals to care for them. This simple requirement is standard protocol for almost every other licensed or certified professional in California. A good example is the requirement for all volunteers at public schools to receive a background check. No one questions the responsible policy of ensuring that children are protected, even when they are participating in after-school sporting events. How, then, can we continue to allow convicted felons to provide unsupervised care in a disabled or senior’s private home?

Since the Department started requiring these background checks, it has turned up a long list of convictions for serious crimes, including:

• Murder
• Rape
• Lewd/lascivious acts with a child under 14
• Grand theft – diversion of funds
• Lewd/lascivious acts with a dependent adult by caretaker
• Willful infliction of cruel or inhuman corporal punishment upon a child
• Fraud against a government program

The courts have irresponsibly decided to block the ability of the state and counties to prevent individuals with serious criminal backgrounds from becoming in-home caregivers. The court decision and injunction only allows criminal disqualifications for caregivers with convictions for three very specific, violations – elder abuse (PC 368), child abuse (PC 273a(a)) and defrauding specified health care and supportive services programs (WIC 12305.81). Astonishingly, privacy laws in California prevent local officials from even warning vulnerable, disabled recipients that they may be allowing someone with a criminal history of stealing or violent behavior into their homes.

It is ridiculous to exclude a caregiver for elder abuse, but not for lewd and lascivious acts with a dependent adult (PC 288 (c)(2)). There is no policy justification for disqualifying a person for one type of willful child abuse, but not cruel or inhuman corporal punishment to a child (PC 273d (a)). Nor should we allow individuals convicted of other violent felonies like murder, rape, assault or battery to provide care to vulnerable individuals in the privacy of their homes when no one else is supervising care.

Lastly, individuals who have convictions for defrauding public assistance programs do not belong in programs where they can steal taxpayer dollars again, or worse, steal from the recipients they care for, many of whom are limited in their ability to think clearly, move about or manage their own financial affairs. The Legislature’s own Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes recommended in March that this issue be corrected: “The Legislature should consider enacting legislation allowing CDSS to exclude IHSS workers if they have been subject to administrative actions in other health care or social service occupations,” noting that the criminal screening for people working as nurses or working in adult residential facilities – where the presence of other staff and residents provide further protections to recipients – is vastly stronger than for in-home caregivers. The law must be changed.

Despite numerous attempts for nearly a year, the Legislature has failed to engage with my Administration in a discussion regarding statutory protections for IHSS recipients. Every day that passes, the matter becomes more urgent. The California Department of Social Services (the Department) has received several hundred appeals from individuals convicted of serious crimes who wish to be cleared to continue working or begin providing care in this program. Officials in California counties, public authorities and district attorney’s offices have identified many individuals that they do not want to enroll as providers due to criminal backgrounds. However, without an immediate law change, the courts have left the Department with no choice but to approve individuals with these backgrounds to become caregivers. This is a grave threat to safety of IHSS recipients and a waste of the scarce government resources that must be paid to these known criminals.

Let me be clear: Choosing to protect these felons over the vulnerable beneficiaries in this program is akin to releasing violent felons from prison and sending them straight into a nursing home on a work-release program. I am hard pressed to imagine that any member of the Legislature would allow a convicted sex offender to take care of their own grandmother in a nursing home. But if the Legislature continues to resist making changes in the law, the Legislature is essentially saying it is okay for that to occur to someone else’s grandmother in their own home. I urge you and your staff to begin working with my Administration immediately to make the legal changes we need – as part of the budget agreement if necessary – to protect IHSS recipients from being victimized. The safety of recipients in this program depends on it.


Arnold Schwarzenegger