WILKES-BARRE — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey on Wednesday lauded the Department of Labor’s decision to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to more than 2 million workers who provide in-home care services for the elderly and disabled.
Casey, D-Scranton, called the decision “a victory for direct care workers and older Americans and people with disabilities” in Pennsylvania and across the country.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 2,930 home health aides in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area. The Labor Department’s new rules — starting in 2015 — will mandate home health care agencies pay workers minimum wage and overtime pay.
In a press release this week, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said, “Almost 2 million home care workers are doing critical work, providing services to people with disabilities and senior citizens who want to live in community settings and age in place in their familiar surroundings. But when it comes to getting paid, they are lumped into the same category as teenage babysitters. This is wrong and this is unfair.”
Casey’s office said every business has a different scale, but the workers have had no minimum wage protections, so the problem arose out of these workers getting less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
Casey said he has long advocated for fair pay and increased training opportunities for direct care workers, who are at the front lines of caring for the nation’s surging population over the age of 65.
“Insufficient training, low wages and little or no benefits are problems that increase turnover rates and compromise care,” Casey said.
Since 2010, Casey said, he has worked to move the proposal forward and he vowed to continue to push for policies that ensure older Americans and people with disabilities receive the vital care they need and that those caring for them receive adequate training and fair compensation.
The proposal will revise the companionship and live-in worker regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act to more clearly define the tasks that may be performed by an exempt companion and to limit the companionship exemption to companions employed only by the family or household using the services.
In addition, the department proposed that third-party employers, such as in-home care staffing agencies, could not claim the companionship exemption or the overtime exemption for live-in domestic workers, even if the employee is jointly employed by the third party and the family or household.
Calls to local home health agencies were either not returned or representatives declined comment until they read the ruling issued by the Labor Department.
According to the Labor Department press release, there are 1.9 million direct-care workers in the U.S., most of whom are employed by home care agencies. Of these nearly 2 million, 90 percent are women and 50 percent are minorities.
The home care industry has grown dramatically in recent decades as more Americans choose to receive long-term care at home instead of in nursing homes or other facilities, the release stated, noting, “despite this growth and the fact that direct-care workers increasingly receive skills training and perform work previously done by trained nurses, direct-care workers remain among the lowest paid in the service industry.”