Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate
Families, caregivers and small business owners across the United States are expressing strong opposition to the Labor Department’s proposal, supported by the Obama Administration, to remove the “companionship exemption” from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
As reported in this column on January 9, this proposed change threatens the quality of home care for many of America’s seniors and disabled adults and will put thousands of people employed in the home care industry out of work.
Currently the FSLA exempts most home care workers (also known as personal care assistants or companion care workers) who provide “companionship services for individual who because of age or infirmity are unable to care for themselves” from minimum wage and overtime pay requirements. The change would remove the exemption, raising costs for businesses and families, increasing the regulatory and paperwork burden and reducing hours for hardworking Americans.
The proposed regulations are now subject to legally required public comments through February 27. Seniors, their families, agencies, and others concerned about the impact of these burdensome and costly regulations are speaking out and let the federal government know the damaging effect these changes will have on them. Following is a small sample:
From Sam G.: “I beg you not to destroy this industry which is providing legitimate employment to millions of home care workers in U.S. Our business is now under jeopardy of the drastic damage by the Department of Labor and President Obama… SAVE SENIORS, SAVE JOBS, SAVE THE INDUSTRY.”
From Catherine S.: “As a professional providing guidance daily to the families of seniors in need of such care, I know they can barely afford quality care as it is. This will immediately put a large portion of the needy elderly population at risk by providing them no other choice but to hire people off the street, with no payroll, and no background checks, just so they can have some continuity of care at a reasonable rate. The risks are obvious.”
From Melissa H.: “The proposed changes will make legal companion care so expensive that it will be simply unaffordable to millions of seniors who depend on companion services to remain living at home. The changes will also severely reduce the income of many workers currently working as companions. The elderly and infirm that require the most companion services will be hurt the most.”
From Andy H: “Everyone loses in this “private hire” scenario. The vulnerable elderly will be at risk of hiring companions who are not screened, trained or supervised, and what happens when the companion is sick or suddenly quits? Private hire also means companions will not have the protection of unemployment, social security, workers compensation insurance or benefit from any employment laws. Finally, the state loses in the private hire scenario with the loss of payroll taxes, social security contributions, reported taxable income, etc.”
From Kathy J.: “This rule change will create the world’s largest underground economy.”
From Danielle F.: “I strongly oppose this regulation change…In many situations other compensation is considered like reduced for paid rent, utilities so it becomes a win-win situation for both parties. It allows for one individual in need of services to retain independence and the other to provide care while making ends meet.”
From Todd A.: “We’ve been in business for over 25 years providing excellent care with a great staff of employees. This rule would seriously threaten our ability to survive. Our company employs more than 250 people a week caring for over 150 patients. Please consider these facts before passing this rule.”
From Elaine T.: “Once again, government does not always see the reality of the situation.”
The impact could not be clearer. Many seniors and their families will be the ones to pay the price, going without home care services when they can no longer afford it as a direct result of this ill-considered proposal.
Loss of an affordable in-home non-medical care option will force many seniors and people with disabilities into institutional care, which is often paid for through government programs. This means by We The People, the taxpayers. Federal and state programs are already in jeopardy, and in no position to increase their payment rates to meet the added costs of overtime compensation.
Others will simply turn to the underground economy. They put themselves at risk for substandard care, even elder abuse. Governments will lose tax revenue, while the caregivers will lose important employee protections.
In the end, businesses will close and people will lose jobs. Seniors will be denied affordable care. In today’s economy, how can we possibly risk this destructive impact?
Of course people deserve fair wages for performing the challenging, admirable work of being a caregiver. But the overwhelming negative consequences described so well here in the public comments cannot be disregarded. The current Companionship Exemption accommodates the unique needs of seniors and people with disabilities who need home care in an effort to keep this service accessible and affordable.
You have until Monday, February 27 to visit the Labor Department website at this link to get the contact information for sending your comments.
Take a few minutes to express your opinion on this issue. Let them know how these changes will negatively impact your family and your community. It could make all the difference.
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!