Each year, more than 12 million Americans receive care at home temporarily or permanently because of an illness, injury or condition. These individuals are cared for by more than two million home care employees nationwide who perform every duty from providing medical care to cleaning the patient's home to driving him or her to treatment.
In many cases, it's family members who care for patients and are paid by their respective states. Many of these caretakers leave lucrative careers to serve their family members because they cannot afford the care of others and want to stay close to their loved ones in their time of need.
Currently, home care workers are one of the few groups of employees who are exempt from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). However, beginning January 1, 2015, overtime pay law will extend to these workers, providing them with the overtime benefits they work so hard for.
However, President Obama's struggle to ensure fair pay for home care workers, many who work up to 60 hours a week, is having unexpected consequences for these employees and the people they care for. Under a proposal by California Governor Jerry Brown, overtime would be prohibited for workers paid by his state.
According to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), caregivers in California will see their paychecks slashed by 43 percent while clients' hours of care would be reduced by 7 percent. The majority of caregivers who work more than 40 hours receive straight pay for extra hours – under the new FLSA law, the state of California would be required to pay time and a half for extra hours worked. To avoid the cost, Governor Brown is eliminating those hours altogether. Workers will not only be denied overtime, they will lose hours they have depended on for years.
Said a home care director for SEIU, “What the proposal does is break the fragile bond between home care worker and consumer and doom home care providers, mostly women and people of color, to an endless cycle of poverty.”
The consequences on patients
In order to abolish overtime, hours will need to be covered by workers other than a patient's constant caregiver. This is especially harmful since many patient/caregiver relationships have been built over several years, and that caregiver is the person most familiar with the patient's specific and special needs.
“It's really going to create chaos for recipients and for present caregivers,” remarked Gary Passmore, vice president of the advocacy group Congress of California Seniors, to Capital and Main. “Ironically, the people who need the most hours have the highest needs. They are the frailest and the most profoundly disabled.”
In response to the mandate, many clients will need to be moved to long-term nursing care facilities, which are considerably more expensive to the state than in-home care. The SEIU reported that nursing institution costs run five times as much as at-home care. The annual cost for someone in a nursing home is $65,000 compared to $13,000 for someone receiving assistance at home.
The impact of Governor Brown's proposal would be devastating to the State of California. Workers would lose the pay they count on; clients would lose out on the care their families count on.
For years, employees in other industries have received the overtime pay they've earned. Now that home care workers will be protected under the same law starting in 2015, they deserve to be treated as fairly as others. Attempting to save money in the short-term will have dramatic consequences financially in the state of California over the long-run as more patients move from affordable in-home care to more expensive instructional care.