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California could boot thousands of immigrants from program that aids elderly and disabled

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California could boot thousands of immigrants from program that aids elderly and disabled

In Bell Gardens, Raquel Martinez said she has relied for nearly three years on a program that pays an assistant to help her make it safely to her frequent appointments at the MLK Medical Campus.

Martinez, 65, is blind and has cancer. If she did not have the help of her support worker, Martinez said, she would struggle to navigate the elevators and find the right office. Her assistant also helps her with groceries and other daily tasks such as housekeeping, she said, tending to her 21 hours a week.

“I was in need of a lot of help,” Martinez said in Spanish.

As budget cuts squeeze the state, California could yank such assistance from elderly, blind or otherwise disabled immigrants who have relied on the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program.

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IHSS pays assistants who help people with daily tasks such as bathing, laundry or cooking; provide needed care such as injections under the direction of a medical professional; and accompany them to and from doctor’s appointments. It aims to help people remain safely in their own homes, rather than having to move into nursing facilities or suffer without needed care.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed cutting immigrants in the country illegally from the IHSS program, estimating it would save California nearly $95 million as the state stares down a $44.9-billion budget deficit.

The proposed cut has outraged groups that advocate for immigrants and disabled people, which argued it would be a shortsighted move that would jeopardize Californians who need day-to-day support, put them at increased risk of deportation and ultimately drive up costs for the state.

At a recent hearing in Sacramento, Ronald Coleman Baeza called it “indefensible” for Newsom to propose “to eliminate these services for a population for no reason but for their immigration status.”

“It’s right out of Donald Trump’s playbook,” said Baeza, managing director of policy for the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. “Without IHSS, these individuals will need costly and preventable hospital and nursing home care, and family caregivers will go without pay,” perpetuating “a generational cycle of poverty.”

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In California, IHSS is open to blind, disabled and aged people on Medi-Cal, the California Medicaid program. Medi-Cal has expanded over time to include immigrants here illegally, beginning with children and eventually covering Californians of all ages. State officials emphasized that if the cut goes through, immigrants without legal status would remain eligible for Medi-Cal.

“The IHSS benefit for the undocumented population was an expansion of services,” H.D. Palmer, deputy director of external affairs for the Department of Finance, said in an email. “None of these solutions were made easily or lightly. The overall goal was to maintain core programs and base benefits” such as Medi-Cal, “in particular, Medi-Cal services regardless of citizenship status.”

The California Department of Social Services said nearly 3,000 immigrants without legal status had been authorized for IHSS. Budget officials said more than 1,500 were receiving such benefits as of earlier this year.

At a California State Senate subcommittee hearing, a Department of Social Services representative said the state agency was working with the Department of Health Care Services to see what other benefits people being jettisoned from IHSS might be able to access “to mitigate any negative impacts.”

Most of the affected people getting such assistance are 50 and older, but the program also serves children with disabilities who might otherwise need to live in facilities, advocates said.

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Advocates fear that if the proposed cut is approved by state lawmakers, people in the country illegally could lose such support as soon as July. The Department of Social Services said it would issue notices at least 10 days in advance to people being cut off. Martinez, who is here illegally, hadn’t heard that IHSS could be yanked away until a reporter mentioned it.

Blanca Angulo, 62, who helps others through the local group Inmigrantes con Discapacidades — Immigrants with Disabilities — said rolling back the benefits would be “a terrible blow.”

“They don’t know the life of a disabled person because they’re not walking in our shoes,” she said in Spanish. “So for them it’s very easy to take away these services without thinking about it.”

Booting people from the program could also have reverberating effects on families, advocates said. In many cases, relatives are the ones being paid to provide care under the program. Anthony Wright, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Health Access California, called it “a double whammy.”

If a caregiver “loses income and has to potentially find other work, then who does the caregiving?” he asked. “Or they continue the caregiving, but then they have no means to meet basic needs.”

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In the Hollywood area, Jose Villasana Moran worries about what losing the program would mean for his family. His husband took a pay cut from working as an assistant manager at a restaurant to serve as the IHSS caregiver for his 63-year-old mother, who is here illegally and has Alzheimer’s disease.

“My mom needs help 24/7,” Moran said. “I don’t know what we will do. … We have to dress her. We have to comb her hair, clip her nails, make her food because she cannot cook anymore.”

Putting her in a nursing home “would be the last resort,” if they could even afford it, Moran said. His late father had needed more care than they could provide and had endured shoddy care at a dirty facility, he said.

“I would not want my mom to go through that.”

Being jettisoned from the program would mean losing the income his husband had been receiving for her care, now capped at 195 hours a month, he said. Moran was determined that somehow, between the two of them, “we’re going to try to take care of my mom, even if we don’t have the money.”

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But he fears other vulnerable people who are in the country illegally may be left alone without help, putting themselves and others at risk, “because family members are forced to leave the house and work.”

In Contra Costa County, Norma Garcia has been attending to her 67-year-old mother, who has dementia and needs constant care, through the IHSS program. If her mother is cut off from the program, and Garcia is no longer paid to care for her, “how am I going to buy food? How will I keep paying the bills?” she asked.

“My spouse works, but it’s not enough,” she said in Spanish. Finding another job outside their home in El Sobrante is impossible when her mother needs so much help, Garcia said.

“I can’t leave her alone for even a minute.”

Hagar Dickman, a senior attorney with the advocacy group Justice in Aging, called it “a really big inequity issue.”

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“It forces a targeted population, which is the individuals who are undocumented, to either seek institutional care … or to increase impoverishment of their families,” Dickman said.

Critics also argue that any savings from ejecting people here illegally from IHSS could be outstripped by the expense of putting more of them into nursing facilities. Attorneys with Disability Rights California pointed out that the state has estimated a nursing home costs an average of $124,188 annually — far more than the average cost of roughly $28,000 for people in the country illegally on IHSS, they said.

“This looks like a classic example of ‘a penny wise, a pound foolish,’ ” Wright said. Even if only a fraction move into nursing homes, “it would still cost more money, because nursing home care is so much more costly.”

Dickman added that being pushed into a nursing facility could put immigrants at risk of losing their shot at legal status. Under the “public charge” rule, people can be blocked from getting a green card or citizenship if they are likely to become “primarily dependent” on government aid. Medi-Cal benefits do not usually factor into those decisions — but they can if someone is institutionalized for long-term care at government expense.

As it stands, Angulo said many immigrants here illegally are already afraid to use IHSS services for fear of possible consequences. “The laws are always changing,” she said in Spanish, “for good or for bad.”

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At a recent hearing, a representative of the Western Center on Law & Poverty warned that the advocacy group believes the cuts would violate state and federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, and said it was “exploring litigation options.”

Palmer said Newsom “respects that there will be disagreement over many of these proposals, and that other alternative approaches may be put forward in the weeks ahead as discussions with the Legislature continue.”

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Top manager of California's largest water supplier accused of sexism and harassment

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Top manager of California's largest water supplier accused of sexism and harassment

The board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California voted to place General Manager Adel Hagekhalil on leave Thursday while the agency investigates accusations of harassment against him by the agency’s chief financial officer.

Chief Financial Officer Katano Kasaine made the allegations in a confidential letter to the board, which was leaked and published by Politico. She said Hagekhalil has harassed, demeaned and sidelined her and created a hostile work environment.

MWD Board Chair Adán Ortega Jr. announced the decision after a closed-door meeting, saying the board voted to immediately place Hagekhalil on administrative leave and to temporarily appoint Deven Upadhyay, an assistant general manager, as interim general manager.

“This board is determined to act with unity and swiftness in order to protect everybody,” Ortega said. “My hope is that under Deven’s leadership in the coming months, that we will find some common purpose, that we will realize the urgency of the policies and the tasks that confront us.”

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Ortega said in an interview after the meeting that there are “several investigations” underway. He declined to comment on the other investigations, and said Hagekhalil will be on administrative leave for up to 90 days.

“We’re calculating that that’s the amount of time it will take to complete the investigations,” Ortega told The Times.

Ortega began the meeting by announcing that the board had decided earlier this week to open an investigation. He called a vote allowing him to publicly discuss confidential matters discussed during that Tuesday meeting, and he criticized the release of the letter.

“The person who released this sensitive document knows that we as a board and as individuals are constrained by law not to reveal closed-session proceedings and related documents,” Ortega said. “They were trying to take advantage of that. But I’m not letting them. At minimum, by releasing the document, that person has tried to set a narrative that is potentially harmful to the general manager, the chief financial officer, this board and this agency, and they know it.”

Ortega said the board acted to start the investigation “in order to avoid the leak that happened anyway.” He said he and other board members believe that both Hagekhalil and Kasaine “deserve the due process prescribed by law.”

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Thursday’s special meeting was scheduled while Hagekhalil was traveling in Singapore for a water conference. According to the board meeting agenda, the closed session included a review of Hagekhalil’s performance as well as a discussion of potential discipline or dismissal. On those two items, Ortega said, there were “no reportable actions” during the closed meeting.

Board members voted unanimously to place Hagekhalil on administrative leave, with one abstention and several board members absent.

Kasaine said in her letter that throughout 30 years of government work, “I have encountered toxic work environments, but none as hostile and dysfunctional as Metropolitan.”

“Despite my tireless dedication and outstanding performance ratings, it has become incredibly stressful to even show up for work. I am constantly scrutinized, sidelined, and demeaned for standing up against issues that are not in Metropolitan’s best interest,” Kasaine said in the May 27 letter, which following the leak was released by the district.

Hagekhalil responded to the accusations in a text message, denying any wrongdoing.

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“I’ve always treated our MWD staff with complete respect, professionalism and kindness. Always,” Hagekhalil said. “I stand by my record of reforming the agency’s workforce policies and creating a healthy, supportive and inclusive work environment. Any investigation of these unsubstantiated claims will reveal that they are false, and I look forward to returning to my work at MWD to serve our staff and our community as soon as possible.”

He said the claims are “disagreements on management decisions.”

“When I started at MWD, I increased Katano’s responsibilities on an interim basis, and as CFO, she has had an important leadership role in recent MWD actions, including overseeing the agency’s adoption of a two-year budget and development of a long-range financial plan,” Hagekhalil said.

MWD is the nation’s largest wholesale supplier of drinking water, serving cities and agencies that supply 19 million people across Southern California.

Ortega lamented that with the release of the letter, “the confidentiality that they were to enjoy in order to correct matters, has now been compromised for the benefit of an undeclared individual who, depending on our silence, thought that they could deceive the press.”

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“Thus, the person who released the document should not be considered a whistleblower, but should be questioned by those listening to him or her about their motives and the personal gain they would like to achieve by violating the rights of others and trying to taint our agency,” Ortega said, reading from a prepared statement. “While I can’t reveal the extent of our continuing deliberations today, or guarantee outcomes, on behalf of the board, I want to assure our workforce that we will continue to act in a transparent way to bring security, harmony and protection of rights for everyone who works here so we can do the work of bringing water to Southern California.”

Several people spoke at the meeting, expressing support for Hagekhalil and calling for a fair and impartial investigation.

“Due process has been tainted in a major, major way,” said Mark Gold, director of water scarcity solutions for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s a personnel issue that you need to investigate and keep private as much as possible.”

Gold also said Hagekhalil “lives and breathes water in this agency more than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

Hagekhalil has led the agency at a time of major challenges, including negotiations aimed at addressing shortages of Colorado River water, plans for building the country’s largest wastewater recycling facility, and the MWD board’s consideration of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to build a $20-billion water tunnel in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

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Hagekhalil previously worked for the city of Los Angeles leading programs focusing on sewers and streets. He was appointed MWD’s general manager in 2021 after a bitter power struggle among board members. He earns $503,942 a year as general manager and chief executive, leading more than 1,900 employees and overseeing more than $2.2 billion in annual spending.

Hagekhalil has said he is seeking to transform the district to make the region’s water supplies resilient to the effects of climate change.

“This is at a time when MWD is at a crossroads,” said Bruce Reznik, executive director of Los Angeles Waterkeeper, who has supported Hagekhalil’s efforts at MWD. “The old way of doing business, the old model for water, doesn’t work in our climate change reality, and I know MWD is wrestling with these very challenging issues. And I think Adel and his team have done an amazing job of starting to tackle that.”

Some of Hagekhalil’s supporters questioned why the matter was brought to the board while he was traveling, and suggested the public airing of grievances appeared to be a calculated ambush.

Kasaine wrote in the letter that she has been “maligned, harassed, bullied, and sidelined from my core responsibilities.” She said Hagekhalil’s “preference for male colleagues/staff over me has continued to sow the seeds of sexism and belittling.”

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She also criticized Hagekhalil’s hiring of a team of trusted, highly paid consultants, calling it “an entire shadow leadership team, wielding more power than those holding official titles.”

Kasaine said Hagekhalil has told her that she will no longer have oversight responsibilities leading the district’s human resources and diversity, equity and inclusion offices.

“Taking these core services from me without any justification or reason is highly suspect and leads me to believe it is retaliation for speaking up on key concerns,” Kasaine wrote in the letter.

During Thursday’s meeting, many speakers said the matter demands a thorough and impartial investigation.

Ellen Mackey, chair of the employee union’s women’s caucus, told the board that as the situation stands, “we don’t have facts, just accusations.”

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Some environmental advocates said they suspect a link between the surfacing of allegations against Hagekhalil and his work leading efforts to take the district in a new direction by developing a climate adaptation plan, investing in local water sources and revamping MWD’s financial model.

Charming Evelyn, who chairs the Sierra Club’s water committee in Southern California, said Hagekhalil has brought positive changes to the MWD, and that has put him in conflict with the district’s “old guard.”

The California Water Impact Network, an advocacy group, said in a press release that the possibility that Hagekhalil’s efforts might lead the board to eventually vote against the proposed Delta Conveyance Project “has led to an attempted mutiny” by supporters of the tunnel among the district’s board members and staff.

The group noted that Kasaine currently serves as treasurer of the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority, the entity that was created to finance the tunnel project.

Max Gomberg, a board member of the California Water Impact Network, charged that the move against Hagekhalil appears to be a “political power play” designed to push through the tunnel project.

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Leaders of Indigenous tribes and other environmental groups also voiced concerns.

Krystal Moreno of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians said that while the accusations should be independently investigated, “we also ask that the investigation include the questionable and concerning timing of these allegations and the board’s swift attempt to remove Adel without any investigation while he has been out of the country.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of the group Restore the Delta, which opposes the tunnel project, said the allegations and the timing of the claims are “equally problematic.”

“Both deserve a thorough and fact based investigation with transparent findings and due process,” she said.

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Trump has 'sort of a pretty good idea' of VP pick, will probably announce during RNC convention

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Trump has 'sort of a pretty good idea' of VP pick, will probably announce during RNC convention

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Former President Trump said he has “sort of a pretty good idea” of who his vice presidential running mate will be but will probably announce his selection during this summer’s Republican National Convention. 

Trump spoke with Fox News’ Aishah Hasnie at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Republican National Committee on Thursday following meetings with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

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He was asked if his pick was present at any of the meetings.

TRUMP RILES UP FIERY SWING STATE CROWD IN FIRST RALLY SINCE NEW YORK CONVICTION

Aishah Hasnie spoke with President Trump at the Republican National Convention headquarters in Washington, D.C., following his meetings at the National Republican Senatorial Committee on Thursday. (Fox News)

“Probably. I don’t want to go, but I think (it) will probably get announced during the convention,” Trump said. “During the convention. There were some good people and, we have some very good people.”

The convention will be held from July 15-18 in Milwaukee. Trump said that Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, could be on the short list. 

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“And I think I could consider that,” he said. “Yes. I haven’t been asked that question, but he would be on that list.”

Hasnie also asked Trump about his thoughts on President Biden as a father following Hunter Biden’s conviction on federal gun charges. 

“Well, I think it’s a very serious thing,” Trump said. “I understand that whole subject. I understand it pretty well because I’ve had it with people who have it in their family,” referring to the younger Biden’s history of drug addiction. 

BIDEN CAMP JABS AT TRUMP’S ‘FAILED’ BUSINESS RECORD AS FORMER PRESIDENT LOOKS TO SWAY NATION’S TOP CEOS

President Biden says he won't pardon Hunter

President Biden, left, and his son Hunter Biden. (Getty Images)

“It’s a very tough thing. It’s a very tough situation for a father,” he added. “It’s a very tough situation for a brother or sister. And it goes on and it’s not stopping. Whether it’s alcohol or drugs or whatever it may be. It’s a tough thing. And so that’s a tough moment for the family. It’s a tough moment for any family involved in that.”

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Hunter Biden was convicted last week of three felony charges related to the purchase of a revolver in 2018 when he lied on a federal gun-purchase form by saying he was not illegally using or addicted to drugs.

Biden has said he will not use his presidential powers to appeal his son’s conviction. He’s also said in the past that he was proud of his son and that he believes he did nothing wrong. 

Hogan Maryland

Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas on Nov. 18, 2022.  (AP Photo/John Locher)

“As I said last week, I am the President, but I am also a Dad. Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today,” Biden said after the verdict. “So many families who have had loved ones battle addiction understand the feeling of pride seeing someone you love come out the other side and be so strong and resilient in recovery.”

Later in his interview, Trump said he hadn’t been asked to endorse former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, for the U.S. Senate. Hogan endorsed Nikki Haley over Trump and did not endorse him during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. 

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“Yeah, I’d like to see him win,” Trump said. “I think he has a good chance to win. I would like to see him win.”

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Opinion: What a relief. The Supreme Court did the right thing on mifepristone

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Opinion: What a relief. The Supreme Court did the right thing on mifepristone

The same Supreme Court that overruled Roe vs. Wade two years ago on Thursday followed well-established constitutional principles to dismiss a lawsuit that sought to restrict the availability of mifepristone, a drug used to medically induce abortions. The bottom line is that the decision upholds the Food and Drug Administration’s rules for mifepristone. This is crucial for reproductive rights; it is estimated that 63% of all U.S. abortions are now medically induced rather than being performed surgically.

The mifepristone case never should have gotten this far. The challenge to the drug should have been dismissed by lower courts, but the staunchly conservative judges on those courts, out of their desire to restrict abortions, ignored basic rules about who can sue in federal court. We should be thankful that the ultraconservative Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. recognized the error made by the lower courts and unanimously dismissed the case because the plaintiffs had no standing to bring the suit.

The Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone as part of a two-drug protocol to induce abortions in 2000. In 2016, the FDA made the drug more easily available, saying it could be used until the 10th week of pregnancy rather than just to the seventh week. The agency also reduced the number of required in-person clinical visits from three to one, and allowed nurse practitioners to prescribe and dispense mifepristone. Five years later, the FDA eliminated the requirement that mifepristone be administered in person; it had been the only drug with such a restriction.

In 2022, four antiabortion groups and several doctors who opposed abortion brought a lawsuit challenging the FDA’s approval of mifepristone. They filed their lawsuit in the Amarillo division of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas where there is only one federal judge. The filing was not accidental. Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who was appointed by President Trump, is a well-known foe of abortion rights. He wrote a stunning opinion overturning the FDA’s approval of mifepristone. It was the first time in history any judge had overturned the FDA’s approval of a drug.

A conservative panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit said that Kacsmaryk erred in overturning the FDA’s 2000 approval of mifepristone, but it called the FDA’s actions making mifepristone more available “arbitrary and capricious.” If the Supreme Court had agreed, it would have been much more difficult for those wishing to terminate abortions to have access to mifepristone.

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What both the district court and the court of appeals ignored was the issue of standing. In order to sue in federal court, a plaintiff must show that he or she is personally injured by the action being challenged, as well as showing that the harm is caused by the defendant, and that a favorable federal court decision would remedy the injury. The Supreme Court’s decision Thursday exactly underlined that understanding of standing.

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote the opinion for the court, plainly declaring: “Under Article III of the Constitution, a plaintiff’s desire to make a drug less available for others does not establish standing to sue.”

At the oral arguments in the case in March, the attorney for the plaintiffs, Erin Hawley, suggested that doctors opposed to abortion could be harmed by the FDA’s mifepristone decisions because they might have to perform one if a woman who took the drug arrived in an emergency room with complications. The justices asked if that had ever happened. She couldn’t point to a single example. As Kavanaugh wrote in his opinion: “The FDA is not requiring [doctors] to do or refrain from doing anything.” Moreover, he noted that federal law protects doctors from having to perform procedures that violate their conscience. “Plaintiffs have not shown — and cannot show — that the FDA’s actions will cause them to suffer any conscience injury.”

The court’s decision is a relief for those who support abortion rights, but it does not change the reality that overruling Roe vs. Wade has led to laws severely restricting reproductive healthcare, including medically induced abortions, in two dozen states. And there is no doubt that antiabortion forces will continue to look for ways to try to restrict the availability of mifepristone, including in lawsuits brought by state governments that already are pending.

Erwin Chemerinsky is a contributing writer to Opinion and the dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law. His latest book is “Worse Than Nothing : The Dangerous Fallacy of Originalism.”

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