Caretakers for Disabled Can't Afford Criminal Background Checks
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"It's definitely caused hardship," said Donna Calame, executive director of the San Francisco IHSS Public Authority. "These are very poor people. The fee is $50 to $75, and coming up with that amount of money can be difficult. But the mean-spiritedness of the state law specified that it come out of the workers' pockets."
The state IHSS program is intended to allow disabled people to live independently by paying for caretakers for help with tasks they can't perform themselves. Counties recently began implementing a 2008 Arnold Schwarzenegger-backed law requiring applicants for caretaker jobs to pay for their own fingerprinting and criminal background checks.
The idea was to prevent people convicted of health-care fraud, child abuse, or elder abuse from ripping off the disabled. But Calame said that Schwarzenegger had exaggerated the prevalence of fraud within the IHSS fraud program. More recently, she said, of 21,000 background checks performed in San Francisco, only 10 people have been found ineligible to work. That's around $1.5 million, taken from the pockets of people applying for jobs that pay $12 hourly.
Part of the money goes toward fingerprinting, done by a private contractor. But "there are cases where the fingerprint can't be read, and people are paying two or three times to have the fingerprints done," Calame said.
William Hillmann, 37, lives in an SRO unit on Sixth Street, and seeks a caretaker to help him with ulcers on his legs that won't heal.
"I need assistance changing my bandages, getting dressed, getting out of bed, grocery shopping, running errands, and stuff like that. My legs are, like, messed up," he said.
The Snitch spoke with a social worker who'd checked out a prospective caretaker. "He was perfect, a sort of guardian angel," said social worker, who didn't want to be named. But there was a catch: He couldn't afford the $50 fee.
"If he had money, he wouldn't be looking for a job like that," said Hillmann.
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