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‘This fight is for them’

A mother says California is wrong for cutting benefits for the disabled

Posted: July 9, 2009 9:56 p.m.
Updated: July 10, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Tim Holmes, 23, and his mother LeeAnn Holmes hold a letter they received from Social Security, stating an 8-percent decrease in his disability check. Tim has had more than 130 brain surgeries for his uncontrolled hydrocephalus, which is head swelling from fluid in his brain cavity.

 

LeeAnn Holmes’ battle against the state budget cuts isn’t just about the recent reductions to her disabled son’s benefits. She is fighting for all the Californians with disabilities whose benefits were slashed and have no one to speak for them.

“I can speak for Tim (Holmes),” said LeeAnn Holmes, 52, about her son. “But there are so many people who can’t speak for themselves. This fight is about them.”

LeeAnn Holmes, of Newhall, is fighting the state of California after it cut the state-funded portion of her son’s Social Security Income disability payment in May.

“I got the letter in the mail in April that said the state was reducing Tim’s benefit,” LeeAnn Holmes said.

She immediately called the Social Security Administration and was told the $44 cut in benefits was made to help California balance its budget. She doesn’t know how long the reduced payments will continue.

California contributes almost half of Tim Holmes’ disability compensation, which totals a little more than $700 per month.

“It may be only $50, but when you only get just over $700 a month, $50 is a lot,” she said. LeeAnn Holmes uses all of Tim Holmes’ disability money to care for her son, she said.

But her fight is not about the money, the mother of three said. It’s about the state’s compassion for the disabled.

“The state is taking money away from people who can’t take care of themselves,” she said.  

More than 130 surgeries
in 10 years
Tim Holmes, 23, also of Newhall, suffers from hydrocephalus. The area surrounding Tim Holmes’ brain swells with fluid, which if not treated can cause severe brain damage or death.

Tim Holmes’ condition severely impacts everything from brain function to his ability to perform daily tasks.

“He can’t walk or go to the bathroom by himself,” LeeAnn Holmes said.

Tim is also legally blind. “He can make out shapes and colors and he figures it out from the memory he has of what things look like,” she said.

LeeAnn Holmes gave up her $80,000 per year job running a chiropractic office to care for her son after his condition worsened in 2008.

Before she left her job, she pulled double duty bouncing between work and the hospital as her son endured more than 130 brain surgeries during the last 10 years.

LeeAnn Holmes takes her fight to the politicians
After the Social Security Administration told LeeAnn Holmes her son’s benefits were cut to help California balance its budget, she took her battle to State Senator George Runner, R-Antelope Valley. She called Runner’s office questioning the cuts to disabled Californians.

“The cuts are happening across the board,” LeeAnn Holmes said she was told by an aide at Runner’s office.
While the disabled like her son watch their benefits diminish, she said the politicians are not sacrificing enough of their own salaries.

“If Senator Runner cut $44 from his salary, it would make me feel better and give me a little bit of hope,” she said.

Runner and other legislators took a 5-percent pay cut, which adds up to $5,800 dollars of the $116,000 state senators earn annually, said Will Smith, Runner’s spokesman.

Smith acknowledged the pay cuts taken by the state legislators don’t make up for the plight of other Californians, but he applauded lawmakers for being part of the solution.

“I think the state legislators took a pay cut because they realized cuts needed to be made across the board and they wanted to be part of those reductions,” he said.

California’s budget ballooned to more than $100 billion for fiscal year 2009-10. That budget has a built-in $27 billion shortfall and across the board budget cuts are needed to balance the state’s finances, Smith said.

However, Kathleen Sturkey, executive director of LARC Ranch, said some portion of the population feels the pain more than others.
“The disabled, seniors and children are the people the state is trying to balance the budget on,” she said.

LARC Ranch provides adult day care and long-term services for disabled residents of the Santa Clarita Valley. The program relies on funding from the state that funnels through the Northern Los Angeles County Regional Center, which serves as a conduit for funding from the California Department of Developmental Services.  

“As of Feb. 1 we got a 3-percent permanent funding cut,” Sturkey said. That amounted to $100,000 from the LARC Ranch 2009-10 budget.

An additional 7-percent cut looms in September, Sturkey said.

State budget cuts costs LARC Ranch residents portions of their Medi-Cal benefits including dental work and psychological evaluations, Sturkey said. The cuts may also cost LARC Ranch two of its adult day programs where disabled adults who live with guardians or parents are dropped off for a day of activities and social interaction, she added.

The adult day program is exactly what LeeAnn Holmes wants for her son Tim Holmes.  

“Tim needs to be able to interact with people his age,” she said.

LeeAnn Holmes didn’t enroll her son in LARC Ranch adult day program when she learned of the potential cuts. She was also worried that the program wouldn’t be a good fit for her son because of the few patients at the Ranch in their 20s.

Finding a program that fits her needs has been difficult, LeeAnn Holmes said.

“There are few options out there with people the right age for Tim and with the state budget cuts some programs aren’t accepting new people,” she said.

Things may get even worse, Sturkey said. Legislators are primed to slash $100 million of funding from the 21 regional centers that financially support places like LARC Ranch in an effort to balance the budget, she added.

State budget process stalls
The state budget negotiations have stalled, Smith said. The Big 5, which includes top Republicans and Democrats from the State Assembly and State Senate along with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, were scheduled to meet this week. However, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, is boycotting those talks, Smith said.

“It’s unclear whether the Big 5 has had any serious negotiations this week,” he said.

Smith said the urgency to pass a budget was lost after State Controller John Chiang said the state can remain liquid until September. “We’ve issued IOUs to vendors but no to state employees so I don’t think there’s a real sense of urgency,” he said.

However, lawmakers might snap out of their funk by July 15 when the second round of IOUs are issued, Smith added.

LeeAnn Holmes fight will continue
“I won’t be able to take care of Tim forever,” LeeAnn Holmes said. “At some point he needs to go into a program that will have to do everything for him including cutting up his food.”

LeeAnn plans to continue to pester politicians and raise awareness of the plight of the disabled and their families.

“In a country with so much we take from those with so little,” she said.    

 

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