Two weeks ago, Rep. Tom Ammiano responded to my article on Assembly Bill 241. I would like to thank him for taking the time to respond. This is exactly what our country needs, meaningful dialogue between representatives and everyday citizens. Below is my response.
My opposition to Ammiano's bill is a matter practicality rather than philosophical. I do not dispute that there's a very real problem with the current working conditions of domestic workers. I do not want caregivers to be tired and overworked. It's unsafe and dangerous to the health of those they care for, including myself. One small slip up while caring for me could mean a trip to the hospital or even death.
It is in my best interest to make sure that my caregivers are treated well. Most, if not all, of the disabled community would pay them $30/hour with overtime plus room and board along with opportunities to get graduate degrees and advance their careers -- fair compensation for their great work. Unfortunately, most people with disabilities can barely afford to maintain themselves.
As I said in my last article, most people with disabilities don't have much money. In 2009, 19.2 percent of disabled Californians lived below the poverty line ($10,890) and 28.6 percent had incomes between $10,890 and $21,671. Only 34.8 percent make at least $32,670 a year. For someone paying $10/hr to a caregiver for 40 hours a week, paying a simple four hours of overtime means an extra $60 a week.
That's gas money, groceries or medicine. While Ammiano's bill does make an exception for low-income people eligible for IHSS, 80 percent of people with disabilities remain excluded from the service.
The IHSS monthly income limit is $870 for an individual ($10,440/year), which is still below the poverty level.
One last thing I'd like to address. Ammiano says that I suggested that $2.7 million in campaign funds were donated specifically to pass this bill. At first I was puzzled because I don't remember saying that, so I went back and reread my article. I did say that. I don't know why I did and I apologize.
The point I was trying to make was that organizations who support the bill have donated $2.7 million in campaign funds to a number of representatives, including Ammiano. 44 out of 45 representatives who voted for the bill received more money from organizations that support the bill than those who oppose it, according to Maplight.
This is a complex issue, but I do not think AB 241 is the solution. Instead, I suggest expanding the current IHSS program to cover middle class disabled Californians while simultaneously raising workers' wages and ensuring current beneficiaries don't experience a reduction in services. I admit, such a bill would not be easy to pass, but it should not be impossible.