As the executive director of Alpha One, Maine’s Center for Independent Living, and a longtime advocate for people with a disability, I have experienced direct care work as an employer and an advocate. Home care workers play a vital role in allowing people to remain independent, in their own homes, and active in their communities, and they deserve the basic labor protections guaranteed by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
All of us who live with a disability want to go on with our lives as we see fit to the greatest extent possible. While we may solicit support from families and friends, we often need professional direct care workers to assist us as well. When we enlist their services, we expect the highest quality possible, and we owe them something in return.
We must value and respect those who help us maintain our autonomy by providing crucial hands-on services, and the best way to show that respect is by making sure they are granted a livable wage and basic benefits. We need to insure that direct care work is recognized and rewarded as real work, valued by the community at large as well as the individuals who receive the services.
Here in Maine, when we have worked to improve status and pay for direct care workers, some of our most articulate advocates have been the consumers who receive hands-on services. In the same way, some of the most eloquent advocates for people with a disability are home care workers who see first-hand the rewards and challenges they experience and know what it means to them to be able to live independently in the community. Direct care is all about relationships, and quality direct care is about developing mutually respectful relationships.
Besides, home care workers are our neighbors and fellow citizens, and theirs is one of the fastest-growing job categories in the nation. Ensuring that they make at least minimum wage and are paid time and a half when they work overtime will help enable them to be contributing members of our communities, shopping at the local stores, paying taxes, and forming an important part of the backbone of our entire economy.
Improving the quality of home care jobs by enacting the proposed rule is not just the right thing to do. It’s in the best interests of us all: people with a disability, the workers who support them, the workers’ families and employers, and the communities they live in.