Why Minimum Wage and Overtime for Home Care Workers Helps All of Us

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.

6 Responses to “Why Minimum Wage and Overtime for Home Care Workers Helps All of Us”

  1. Danny Saenz says:

    I too have worked as a direct service worker, an employer and consumer advocate. I support the workers’ right to overtime and minimum wage. But , what will the impact be on Medicaid funded programs? Will cash strapped states be force to reduce consumers’ home and community based services? I am concern that direct service workers would be out work and with people with disabilities would be forced into institutions.

  2. Tracy says:

    I am a worker at an employee owned supportive homecare agency. Our agency depends heavily on Medicaid funding so I understand your concerns. We are required by state law to pay minimum wage and overtime. We strive to keep overtime to a minimum but sometimes it is unavoidable. Agencies will have to be smarter about the way they schedule their workers to avoid overtime but I speak from experience it can be done we do it everyday. I chair the board of directors at our agency and we have to make difficult decisions everyday but we run a successful business.

    This concern is part of a bigger problem. The long term care system in this country is broken and it is time that it be re-examined. Direct care workers are the eyes, ears, hands and backbone of the long term care system without us doing the hands on care there is no long term care system. We provide a vital service and deserve the same basic labor protections that almost every other occupation in the United States gets. The system should not be balanced on the backs of the workers.

    TracyDudzinski
    Direct Care Worker
    DCA Board Chair

  3. Dennis Fitzgibbons says:

    Your question is a good one. I’ve heard other advocates voice the same “what if” concerns. Many states are indeed cash strapped and are looking for ways to reduce Medicaid spending. Some folks are worried that if the cost of care rises then consumer hours of care will be reduced or worse yet, more people will be forced into nursing homes.

    The greatest argument against wage and hour protection is increased costs to the system. Consider this. Most home care companies will perceive paying overtime as a cost to be avoided. Therefore, they will make the business decisions necessary to adjust their operations to avoid this increased cost since state governments are unlikely to increase reimbursement rates.

    In addition, research has clearly demonstrated that community- based care is more cost effective than facility based care. Even a modest increase in costs as a result of overtime protection for workers would not bridge the cost gap between less costly community-based care and more costly nursing home care.

    Consumers of long term care and direct care workers are both groups of people who are not valued by society. Both groups have a vested interest in the advancement of each other’s economic security and personal freedom. We lift each other up when we can say, “”my care has value” and “my work makes a difference.” Let’s not be held back by fear from doing the right thing for direct care workers-they deserve wage and overtime protections for the important work they do.

  4. Helen Hanson says:

    Dennis, a great piece in the blog and a great response to the first comment. Are you getting any negative feedback from the provider community in Maine about the FSLA rule change?

  5. Tracy says:

    Dennis I agree whole heartedly with your response. We have been silent to long and if we work together we can make a change. We need to raise our voices and let them be heard.

  6. Mr. Fitzgibbons, please tell us how home care workers such as I benefit from removal of the “companion exemption” if there is no increased funding. Where is that overtime pay that’s supposed to make our lives better coming from?
    The “business decision” the agencies will likely make is to divide up the hours and hire more workers at less take-home pay. Right now I work 4 weekly shifts, 12 hours per shift. Instead of my agency paying me 4 hours overtime I will be reduced to 6 hours per shift and someone will be hired to work the other 6. How does this benefit me financially? And how does this attract more workers?

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