OLYMPIA, Wash. - As state lawmakers return to Olympia this week for committee sessions, it's already down to the wire - and down to the bone - for some state services. State agencies in Washington are poised to cut their budgets on Jan. 1, which means fewer hours of care for about 45,000 home-bound people statewide. A new proposal by House Democrats suggests even deeper cuts, dropping some people from the system altogether.
In-home caregivers insist either plan is bad news for lower-income seniors and people with disabilities. Debbie Moore of Tacoma predicts her elderly clients will soon be out of options, except for nursing homes.
"Not to say that anything's wrong with nursing homes, but I have seen people go into nursing homes and they lose their dignity, they lose a lot of their rights. A lot of them, they lose their will to live."
Nursing homes are also bracing to receive less money under the leaner state budget.
In-home care includes bathing, toileting, diet and medication management - tasks that take some skill and training. Moore, who works for the Korean Women's Association, fears the system that has allowed people to remain at home as they age is being dismantled.
"As a caregiver, if I leave before the end of my shift - if I just walk out - that's abandonment. I can get in trouble. What the state is doing with our elderly and disabled is, they're abandoning our elderly and disabled."
Another concern of in-home care workers is that the state's plan to cut clients' hours also cuts their paychecks. It's a move most can't afford, at wages of about $10 an hour.
The Department of Social and Health Services says it isn't happy with the cuts either, but it is required to help balance the budget.
Groups that are protesting the cuts - including the caregivers' union, SEIU - are holding public events this week in Olympia to coincide with the legislative activities.