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Home Care Workers’ Wage Plight Attracts Media Attention

May 6, 2013

In recent days, numerous national media outlets have reported on the home care workforce as it waits for a long-promised change to federal law that would grant them basic wage protections.

In December 2011, President Obama announced that his administration intended to close that loophole, revising the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulation that defines home care workers as casual babysitters exempted from minimum-wage protections and time-and-a-half overtime pay.

But 16 months later, that change has yet to be made.

The Diane Rehm Show

National Public Radio’s The Diane Rehm Show devoted an entire hour to the home care workforce on May 1.

Among the guests interviewed were PHI Government Affairs Director Carol Regan and former Medicare and Medicaid Director Bruce Vladeck.

Despite FLSA’s current language, home care workers “are not companions,” Regan said. “They are professional women…. [W]e really need to put aside that category of ‘companion.'”

The important work done by home care workers is not reflected in their job quality, however. Regan noted that home care jobs are marred by low wages, nonexistent benefits, high injury rates, and part-time hours, all of which contributes to high turnover.

“People can get a better job at a McDonald’s or a restaurant around the corner,” Regan said.

Vladeck added, “There needs to be a public investment in improving the quality of [home care] services by improving the quality of the jobs of the people who give most of the services.”

Other guests on the show were:

  • Susan Dentzer, senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a health-issues analyst for the PBS NewsHour, and
  • Val Halamandaris, president of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice.

Other News

  • A commentary published on May 7 at HealthyCal.org argued that amending the companionship exemption would benefit consumers of California’s In-Home Supportive Services program. The commentary was written by PHI Policy Research Director Dorie Seavey and Eileen Boris, the chair of the feminist studies department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the co-author of Caring for America
  • A May 2 front-page article published by Yahoo! News provides a broad overview of the home care workforce, one of the country’s fastest-growing workforces, and spotlights Home Care Associates, a worker-owned home care agency in Philadelphia and a PHI affiliate.
  • An April 30 post on The New York Times‘s “New Old Age” blog examines the reasons that the proposed change to FLSA has “stumble[d] on its way from the president’s lips to the Federal Register.”
  • Kaiser Health News reporter Alvin Tran quoted PHI National Policy Director Steve Edelstein in an April 29 article on the future of the proposed FLSA revision. Edelstein notes, “The [current] rules don’t really reflect the job being done by home health aides and home care aides.”
  • Delaware’s NPR station, WDDE-FM, published an online story on the state’s home care workforce on April 28.

— by Matthew Ozga

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