Pay rules extended to home health workers
By The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration approved new rules on Tuesday that extend minimum wage and overtime pay to nearly 2 million home health care workers who help the elderly and disabled with everyday tasks such as bathing, eating or taking medicine.
Home care aides have been exempt from federal wage laws since 1974, when they were placed in the same category as neighborhood baby sitters.
But their ranks have surged with the aging population, and the field is one of the fastest-growing professions. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said the workers deserve the same legal protections as most other employees.
“Home care workers are no longer treated like teenage baby sitters performing casual employment under this final rule,” Perez said. “They are treated with dignity, and their hard work is indeed rewarded.”
Labor unions and worker advocacy groups have been seeking the change for years, arguing that nearly half of caregivers live at or below the poverty level or receive public benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid.
But some health care companies claim the overtime requirements will make it tougher for families to afford home care for their aging parents. Lobbyists for the $84 billion industry argue the requirements could reduce the quality of care and lower the take-home pay of caregivers if companies decide not to send workers out for shifts longer than eight hours.
The rules will take effect in January 2015, a move Perez said will give time for states and industry providers to adjust to the requirements. Wage and hour rules typically take effect within 60 days of final approval. The rules cover home health aides, personal care aides and certified nursing assistants who provide care to the elderly and people with injuries, illnesses and disabilities.
President Obama proposed the rules nearly two years ago as part of a broader effort to boost the economy and help low-income workers struggling to make ends meet. More than 90 percent of home care aides are women. About 30 percent are black, and 12 percent are Hispanic.
Jodi Sturgeon, president of PHI PolicyWorks, a nonprofit group that seeks to improve conditions for home care workers, called the new rules a “tremendous victory” for home care aides earning near-poverty wages. She estimated that by 2020, the country would need about 4 million home care aides to meet the needs of its graying population. The number of Americans older than 65 is expected to nearly double in the next 20 years.
Fifteen states extend state minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers, and six more states and the District of Columbia mandate state minimum wage protections.
The median pay for home care workers is about $9.70 per hour, higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, according to Labor Department figures.
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