As more baby boomers age, the in-home care field will grow exponentially – yet workers do not qualify for minimum wage and overtime under the current law. President Obama, Department of Labor and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced plans to update the laws to provide protection for people working in this sector.
That many of the beneficiaries of President Obama’s “We Can’t Wait” initiatives are also members of his electoral base is not missed among his critics. Many lobbied criticism that the goodwill gestures are costly attempts to appeal to voters. Similar accusations arose during the most recent pronouncement. Whether a political move or not, there are 1.8 million people out there welcoming this latest endeavor.
The gender and racial demographics in that field speak to pronounced disparities and a need for change in the pay scale: 92% women, nearly 30% African American and 12% are Hispanics. Close to 40% rely on public benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps because they not subject to the same standards as other health care workers.
In response to those who claim this may be a political move to take a stance that benefits a key voting bloc, Secretary of Labor said “Not at all.
“This issue has been around for decades and it has been a long time coming and finally this President has said we cannot wait for Congress to come in and fix.” Solis referenced a 2007 case when home care worker Evelyn Coke sued for overtime protection under the existing regulations because she worked 70 hours a week with no benefits. The court ruled against her based on the language of the old rules.
When the Fair Labor Standards Act was created in 1974 bestowing rights to workers including healthcare professionals, homecare workers were considered more like babysitters and and were exempted from overtime and minimum wage protection.
Since then, the field has evolved to include professionals.
Solis said that though Cook did not live to see the fight she started have its proper outcome, others will benefit and be able to benefit if the rule change is finally in place. “The care provided by in-home workers is crucial to the quality of life for many families,” Solis said.
During a speech announcing the initiative yesterday, the president was joined by home health care worker Pauline Beck, who the president traded places with in a “life in my shoes” type program during the campaign trail in 2007 . Of his experience, the president said he acknowledged that home healthcare workers are “hardworking professionals, mostly women who work around the clock so that folks who need help, including many of our family members, can live independently in their own home.”
“That’s right – you can wake up at 5:00 in the morning, care for somebody every minute of the day, take the late bus home at night and still make less than the minimum wage,” President Obama said. “And this means that many homecare workers are forced to rely on things like food stamps just to make ends meet.”
“This proposal will level the playing field,” Secretary Solis said. Currently 29 states do not afford minimum wage and overtime protection and the law, when finalized, would standardize the benefits. After the proposal is formally published, members of the public will have 60 days to comment after which the Department of Labor will ascertain those comments and issue its final rules which will then go into effect and impact millions of agencies and home health workers.