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Jodi Sturgeon's picture

There is an old adage in long term care that the best insurance against ever having to go to a nursing home is to have a daughter. In fact, about 66 percent of family caregivers are women.

Today, there are 7 million elders in our nation who need long- term services and supports and that number is expected to grow.

Often, the family caregivers who make it possible for their loved ones to remain independent – either at a distance, nearby, or living with their children – depend on home care workers to supplement their caregiving. It takes a team to help someone who is frail or struggling with one or more chronic diseases to remain in the home.

Women who are caregivers turn to home care workers to provide their loved ones long-term services and supports so that they can go to work, care for their children, and/or prevent the burnout that afflicts many family caregivers over time. It is a very tough job.

Home care workers -- 90 percent are female – provide an array of critical services such as bathing, dressing, food shopping, meal preparation, medication management, and transportation to medical appointments. Yet these hardworking home care aides are undervalued. Half of them earn wages at or below200 percent of the federal poverty level and rely on public assistance like food stamps and Medicaid to take care of their own families.

Worse yet--- home care workers are exempt from basic federal minimum wage and overtime protections that most workers in our nation enjoy under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In 1974 when other domestic employees (housekeepers, nannies, chauffeurs, gardeners) were granted minimum wage and overtime guarantees under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Congress enacted what is known as the  “companionship exemption” —a rule that excludes workers who provide casual “companionship services” to the aged and infirm from these basic protections.

For the last three decades, the rule has been interpreted so broadly that almost all home care aides—nearly 2 million, according to the Department of Labor-- regardless of the level of services they provide, have been subject to the exemption.  The result has been the growth of a vibrant $84 billion industry that relies on millions of workers living on the edge of poverty.

Comment on New Proposal to Extend Home Care Workers Basic Federal Labor Guarantees

Fortunately, the Obama administration has proposed new regulations to ensure that home care workers receive fair pay.  Between now and February 27, the U.S. Department of Labor is soliciting public comments on the new rule.

Now it is our turn to support home care workers.

Please tell the Department of Labor that home care workers deserve fair pay – as well as the dignity and respect that extending basic labor rights to this workforce will help to imply. Tell the Administration that home care workers should be treated like the professionals that they are. Explain how without the essential services that they provide, our parents, grandparents, and other loved ones would have to move to a nursing home at greater cost rather than stay at home as they prefer. Ironically, the workers who would provide the services they need in a nursing home have the minimum wage and overtime protections that their home care workers do not.

Your comments in support of these workers are critical and will make a difference.

We need to build a quality home care workforce to meet our nation’s need for quality long term services and supports. We must ensure that home care employers can attract and retain experienced home care workers instead of paying for costly recruitment and training for a revolving door of aides. That requires quality jobs---extending basic labor protections to these workers is a great place to start.

Visit the PHI Campaign for Fair Pay to learn more about the companionship exemption and why the home care industry can afford fair wages; see sample comments; and access the official public comment site.

PHI is a national, not-for profit organization that works to improve the lives of people who need home and residential care—and the lives of the workers who provide that care.

UPDATE: On February 24, 2012, the Department published a notice to extend the comment period to March 12, 2012, because of requests received to extend the period for filing public comments and the Department's desire to obtain as much information about its proposals as possible. The Department will extend the comment period until March 21, 2012. Comments received between December 27, 2011, the date of publication of the NPRM, and March 21, 2012 will be included in the rulemaking record.

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