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The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to authorize Chairwoman Sherrie Thrall to sign a letter protesting changes to the state In Home Support Services program at its Tuesday, Dec. 1, meeting.
Plumas County Commission on Aging Chairwoman Nancy Lund and several other commission members appeared before the Board of Supervisors to voice their concerns about the changes passed as part of the 2009 state budget.
Lund said one of the most troubling changes was a new rule that required anyone receiving aid from the program to allow unannounced visitors into their homes to investigate fraud.
She explained the commission was fully in support of combating fraud but that seniors were concerned there was no phone number they could call to confirm someone at their door worked for the state program.
“Someone could come to their door and say that they represent the department and we know that fake IDs are not that difficult to get.”
Lund said her group was constantly counseling seniors to always call and confirm the identity of sales or service representatives who arrived at their door.
Plumas County Social Services Director Elliott Smart said he would be surprised to see any investigators make it up to a small county like Plumas but the seniors’ concerns about impersonation were reasonable.
Smart also mentioned the inspectors worked for the state and there was no way for him to know when they were or weren’t in Plumas County.
Lund added that IHSS recipients would all have to be fingerprinted under the new rules.
“Some of the recipients are feeling that ‘because I am disabled or because I am needing help I’m surrendering all kinds of my independence,’ and one of the great things about the IHSS program is to keep people independent, to keep them in their homes, not having them go into the nursing homes which costs the state a whole lot more money and is unsatisfactory to the elder.”
Members of the commission also lamented those receiving aid had to pay for their fingerprinting.
Smart and the commission both reported having sent letters protesting the fingerprinting and several other new elements of the program.
Smart said he told state officials counties like Plumas were particularly harmed by these types of rules because the sheriff’s office in Quincy had the only live scan fingerprinting system and people from areas like Chester had to travel nearly 100 miles round-trip.
The social services director said he was looking into a portable live scan machine, but even that would only be portable in the sense it could travel from community to community, not door to door.
He went on to say, “It still doesn’t deal with the fact that many of the recipients are homebound.”
Supervisor Robert Meacher commented it sounded like the state wanted to make a program go away, but didn’t have the guts to eliminate it. Instead, it simply made it too hard for people to use the program, hoping that would lead to its eventual elimination.
Several members of the commission voiced their adamant agreement with that interpretation of events.
Smart said part of the budget act was crafted at the last minute and concluded, “Good law doesn’t get made at the 11th hour.”
Lund said she had already sent correspondence to the county’s legislators, but the board should send copies of its letters to them as well.
Supervisor Lori Simpson asked Smart how much fraud he thought actually occurred in Plumas.
He said it was probably about the standard level for any public assistance program: 2–5 percent of recipients.
Smart said his department found three incidents of fraud in a caseload of 250 this year.
As the discussion concluded, County Counsel James Reichle said he would work with Smart and Lund to craft a letter for Thrall to sign.
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