Spousal care progam ok for now.

Author Subject: Spousal care progam ok for now.
Injured Posted At 14:25:02 02/25/2000
Spouses likely to keep
fragile hold on caregiving

In a reversal, legislators recommend saving a program
to compensate family nursing help

Friday, February 25, 2000

By Erin Hoover Barnett of The Oregonian staff

SALEM -- In a dramatic turnaround, legislators on
Thursday decided to save a state program that pays
people a subsistence wage to care for their severely ill

"These people are not going to be kicked off the spousal
support," proclaimed Sen. Lenn Hannon, R-Ashland,
chairman of the legislative Emergency Board's human
services committee, in a Capitol hearing room. His words
sent a ripple of teary-eyed smiles through an audience
dominated by men in wheelchairs and their caregiver

The committee's recommendation is expected to easily
pass the full board today.

During its session last year, the Legislature eliminated the
state's innovative spousal pay program because the
federal government does not help fund it, leaving the state
to absorb the full $7 million tab. The state created the
program in 1987, stepping in where the federal
government would not.

The cut was to take effect March 31, forcing the 200
people who receive the benefit to leave their ailing
spouses' sides and find other jobs.

The state planned to hire outside caregivers to attend to
these people. Such caregivers get on average $1,525 a
month, as compared with $1,200 for spousal caregivers.
But the federal government picks up more than half of the
paycheck for outside caregivers, lessening the burden on
the state by about $3.4 million over two years.

However, in the months after the Legislature adjourned,
as the people living in these difficult situations began telling
their stories, what lawmakers thought made good fiscal
sense began to look akin to kicking a puppy.

The debate over the program introduced many lawmakers
to a largely hidden group of Oregonians who, because of
modern medicine, are alive but in need of tremendous
care -- a group that is sure to grow as the population

Rep. Barbara Ross, D-Corvallis, and a member of the
human services committee, called it a "dramatic
opportunity" to learn of these couples' valiant struggles.

Earlier this week, Emergency Board members discussed
ways to save a portion of the spousal pay program.

But the human services committee decided Thursday to
recommend to the full Emergency Board that the entire
program be continued by cobbling together money from
several pots and pressuring the federal government to

The committee vowed to use Emergency Board funds to
make up the difference after the state's budget is
rebalanced in April. But lawmakers are recommending
that no additional people be brought on to the spousal pay
program until the funding situation is stabilized.

The six committee members and other board members
made gracious statements about the need for everyone to
pull together to keep this program. But some could not
resist assessing blame.

Hannon dressed down Gary Weeks, the Department of
Human Services administrator, and two of his lieutenants
for not getting the federal government to approve a
demonstration project sooner that would help pay 64
spousal caregivers in Coos, Jackson, Josephine and
Clackamas counties. He also chided them for pushing a
project that addresses only a portion of the problem.

"Please don't drop the ball on us," Hannon said.

Weeks, who seemed a bit stunned, calmly responded,
"We are as disappointed as you are that it took 20 months
to get the federal government to do something."

Afterward, Weeks complimented the committee for its
decision and said lawmakers had faced many difficult
choices when they cut the spousal program last session.

But when pressed, he said he had made it clear to the
Legislature what was at stake for the vulnerable people
served by this program.

Weeks said four other states have gotten similar
demonstration projects funded but that it took them from
16 to 24 months to do so. Oregon anticipates funding of
its four-county project by July 1, 24 months after making
the request.

Sen. Frank Shields, D-Portland, mildly chastised
lawmakers who seemed to try to pin the blame on state
officials. "Let's not try to duck our responsibility as a
Legislature," he said.

Bill Barron of Mapleton, his legs atrophied by post-polio
syndrome, sat throughout the meeting in his motorized
wheelchair beside his wife and caregiver, Lucinda Barron.

The couple had worried for months that the program
would be cut, interrupting the delicate routine they have
established to make Bill Barron's life bearable.

When Hannon pronounced the spousal care program
saved, Lucinda squeezed Bill's hand.

"I started breathing again," she said.

But Gordon and Mary Onderdonk were not as lucky.
Mary suffered for years from rheumatoid arthritis, relying
on Gordon for her care. In nearly 20 years of marriage,
they had never spent a night without each other.

When they learned that Gordon might have to stop being
her caregiver, they got on the telephone, pleading with
lawmakers and telling their story to any journalist who
would listen.

Gordon and Mary were not in the audience Thursday.
Mary Onderdonk died Jan. 30 at age 41.

Isn't it amazing what happens to lawmakers during an election year
unknown Re: Spousal care progam ok for now. (Currently 0 replies)
Posted At 17:26:08 02/25/2000

What's this??
The Oregonian FINALLY reconizing the injured and disabled??
I don't believe my eyes!

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