Governor Jerry Brown recently introduced a new state budget calling for deep cuts in many departments. Looking through the huge document, it’s easy to get lost in the fine print -- the line items, the pie charts -- and overlook the people who will actually be affected in a very real way.
Raul Carranza is one of these people. The 22 year old was born with muscular dystrophy and can’t move or breathe independently; but his mind is alert and he is determined to speak it.
"It’s how you deal with these obstacles that define you as a person," he said in a recent YouTube video, speaking through a voice-enabled computer.
With the help of nurses who read his lips, he has also spoken at several rallies in San Diego against budget cuts to healthcare.
"I spend my time fighting as hard as I can, for myself and others who can’t fight for themselves," Carranza said.
A fundraiser will be held for Raul in San Diego Saturday night. All money raised through the event will be used to cover his medical bills and possible legal fees incurred by trying to overturn Brown’s budget decision to cut his funding.
Carranza’s muscular dystrophy, a disease in which his muscles waste away and become unusable, makes him entirely dependent on nurses and his family to make sure that his ventilator continues to operate and that his airway remains clear.
One dead battery in the middle of the night could be fatal.
Still, Carranza was determined to rise above the disease.
He was accepted to UCLA last fall as a computer science major, and was living on his own with the help of hired caregivers.
Then, when he turned 21, Carranza’s nursing hours were cut in half by the state.
His family could not afford to hire nurses, so he could no longer be independent. He had to leave school and move back home, and the medical bills are piling up.
"I felt crushed. I felt like all my dreams had been taken away from me," Carranza said. "For a long time I was depressed, and even a few times I was suicidal."
The new state budget calls for an additional 20 percent cut in nursing hours for people like Carranza, who are part of the In Home Supportive Services program (IHSS), which enables people to stay at home with help of nurses, instead of living in a nursing home.
The cuts amount to about $100 million, which is a small part of the total budget cuts. But to the people that it affects, these cuts are devastating.
About 182,000 people in Los Angeles County are in the program, according to Cynthia Schmidt, chief of the IHSS Los Angeles Division.
About 46 percent of them are seniors, and 51 percent are disabled – 22 percent of which are severely impaired, Schmidt said.
"Remember that the people who are served by in home supportive services, these are people who don’t have a choice," Schmidt said. "They didn’t choose to be aged, they didn’t choose to become blind; they didn’t choose to become disabled."
If the cuts go through, Schmidt said many people will wind up in a nursing home, and that won’t actually save the state any money in the long run.
On average, the cost of providing nursing care is about $778 a month, whereas a nursing home can run upwards of $6,000 a month, she said.
These cuts are supposed to go into effect in April, but are on hold as the case is contested in court.
Meanwhile, Carranza is trying to prevent those across the board cuts by appealing his own case. He wants to get back to his studies at UCLA.