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The fight to get access to unemployment benefits for those who provide care for their loved ones | Dollars and Sense

Taking care of a severely disabled loved one can be extra stressful for families when the 'job' ends. "It's tragic. It's dehumanizing," says one mother.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The In-Home Support Services program is a government program that provides day-to-day care for those who are unable to care for themselves. It allows many disabled people to live safely at home, rather than in a nursing home or long-term care facility. 

Services can include everything from meal preparation and laundry to assistance with bathing and dressing. The program pays for family members, or non-family members, to provide that care under certain circumstances.

For many Californians with family members who need constant care, the choice between taking that duty upon themselves or institutionalizing their loved one has only one possible outcome. Providing that care comes with a trade-off at the end, though.

“In general, in-home supportive service workers are eligible for unemployment insurance. It's just the folks who are caring for their close family members who aren't right now, under the state's interpretation,” said Stephen Goldberg, Regional Counsel for Legal Services of Northern California, which provides help for low-income area residents.

Goldberg recently challenged that exclusion in front of the state Supreme Court. He says that lack of a safety net can have horrible consequences.

“A mother had been caring for her severely disabled son for almost 20 years, and her son died. She was a single mom, had no other employment, no other source of income and lost everything,” he told ABC10.

“I chose to stay home, leave my career, and take minimum wage pay so that I could be with my son," said Folsom's Megan Wintermute. She says the case is about helping family members adjust when their loved one dies or needs more care than the family can provide.

She took care of her son Alex, who is on the autistic spectrum, until he became too strong and fast for her to care for safely. When he moved in with his father, she had to adjust quickly. 

Wintermute faced the struggle of having to cope with the change in her life, while also having to find a way to support herself. Unemployment would have been a big help. ”I blew through my savings and you have to pay the bills.”

She says it's an especially difficult process for parents whose child passes away. 

"They're grieving a death. That's huge," Wintermute said. "To not even give them the dignity of unemployment while they try to get the pieces of their life back together is disgusting."

She hopes that the court rules in favor of change for the sake of other families.

“It's tragic. It's dehumanizing. It's very sad and it needs to be remedied.”

The court has until late August to issue a ruling.

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