As home healthcare workers continued to push Tuesday for a wage hike from $9.65 to $15.25 an hour, Los Angeles County’s interim CEO laid out some of the other claims on county coffers, including $27 billion in unfunded retiree benefits.

Sachi Hamai said the county could ultimately risk a downgrade in its debt rating if it failed to fund that long-term liability, which is based on the cost of providing benefits to past, present and future employees.

Other big ticket items that need attention include a jails plan that could cost $1.8 to $2 billion, replacing outdated technology and meeting minimum and “living wage” demands of county employees.

On top of that, the county has $640 million in deferred maintenance projects.

“The inventory is large and old,” Hamai told the board, with more than half of county properties built more than 50 years ago.

Only about one-quarter of the 2015-16 proposed budget of $26.9 billion is spent at the county’s discretion, Hamai said. About $9.5 billion is federal and state funding for designated programs, while roughly $10 billion is tied to specific uses.

The county uses some of that discretionary revenue — generated primarily through property taxes — to meet required matches for federal and state funding. That leaves roughly $3.9 billion for the board to allocate, Hamai said.

Paying in-home supportive services workers — who care for those who otherwise would likely be sent to a nursing home — $11.18 an hour would cost $43.1 million this year. To phase in increases to $13.25 and then $15.25 over the next two years would cost $211 million and $374 million in 2016-17 and 2017- 18, respectively, according to Hamai.

Home healthcare workers, represented by the Service Employees International Union-United Long-Term Care Workers, have been negotiating a raise for months and dozens assembled again Tuesday outside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration.

Workers told the board about the work they do caring for the elderly and disabled, some of whom are members of their own families, and how hard it is to make ends meet on $9.65 an hour.

“Nursing shoes cost two days pay,” said one woman who told the board she works 60 hours a week but still can’t afford new shoes or an eye exam.

Others warned that not raising wages would end up costing the county more in the long run.

“Would you rather for us to be out on the street and homeless?” asked Sharie Washington.

Union research shows that 81 percent of the in-home care providers live in poverty, 33 percent rely on public assistance and 18 percent depend on food stamps to feed their families.

No action was taken on the proposed IHSS raise, but Hamai said other programs would have to be cut in order to pay home care workers more.

Projections by the CEO’s office showed county revenues roughly keeping pace with cost increases for existing county services over the next five years. However, funding retiree benefits, dealing with deferred maintenance, financing a new jail treatment facility and paying for all the other future needs would result in a deficit of more than half a billion dollars by 2019-20, according to the estimates.

“Future budget demands now under consideration will require difficult decisions on existing priorities and services,” Hamai told the board.

— City News Service

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