The Department of Labor released long-awaited final rules September 17 that expand minimum wage and overtime wages to an estimated two million caregivers nationwide.
“Direct care workers play a critical role in ensuring access to high-quality home care that many people need in order to remain healthy and independent in their communities, and they should be compensated fairly for this important work,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in a news release. “We will continue to engage with consumers, states, advocates and home care providers in the implementation of this rule to help people with disabilities, older adults and their families receive quality, person-centered services.”
In 1974, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to protect “domestic service workers,” but exempted so-called “companion workers.” Due to aging of the population and the expansion of community services for people with disabilities, the number of workers who fall into this category increased dramatically.
To remedy the situation, the the DOL proposed rules in 2011 to modify the definition of “companion worker.” The rules, strongly opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, have received a mixed response from disability rights advocates.
ADAPT argued that the rules are irresponsible without any corresponding increase in financial support for home health companies, who may cut positions for caregivers, rather than increase wages.
“The US Department of Labor developed and published these rules without input from the disability community, even though President Obama had issued an Executive Order (13563) that instructed federal agencies to engage all stakeholders before issuing proposed rules,” ADAPT said on its website. “The DOL analysis of the impact of these proposed rules indicated that these rules would result in the institutionalization of people with disabilities and failed to even assess the impact on consumer-directed personal assistance services.”
But for other disability rights groups, such as the American Association of People with Disabilities, the issue is a “simple matter of fairness” that will improve long-term services for people with disabilities.
“AAPD agrees that by ensuring minimum wage and overtime protections for all those who work in the nation’s home and community based services workforce, we will improve the quality of services available to people with disabilities in the community,” AAPD said in a news release. “We call on the Administration to conduct a coordinated and thoughtful implementation of the rule to ensure the integrity of the services that people with disabilities count on to live their lives and maintain their independence.”
In order to allow businesses to transition, the rules will go not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2015.