On DOL Overtime Issue, Democrats Aren’t Even Willing to Talk

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Adam Prizio

On October 14, at the Candidate Forum on Disability Issues in Rochester, NY, Bruce Darling, CEO of the Center for Disability Rights, asked Congresswoman Louise Slaughter’s representative Patty Lark whether Congresswoman Slaughter (D-NY 25) would support legislation to delay implementation of a new Department of Labor (DOL) overtime rule which will cause states to cap attendants at 40 hours per week, interrupting necessary and vital attendant services to people with disabilities.  Ms. Larke indicated that she believed Congresswoman Slaughter would support legislation delaying the rule.

So it is disappointing that neither Congresswoman Slaughter’s office, nor the offices of any other Democratic members of Congress, would even return our phone calls this week to talk about this issue. Disappointing and more than a little troubling, considering the effects that the DOL overtime rule will have.

The DOL overtime rule is a vital issue for the Disability Community. As it now stands, on January 1, 2015, health care providers will be required to pay attendants overtime for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week, including time spent traveling to and from the job. The problem with this is that Medicaid budgets were not written to take the costs of overtime and travel time into account, so states will have to cap attendants at 40 hours per week in order to keep labor costs in line with the Medicaid budget. Attendants, who used to be able to work as many hours as they wanted, will have to look elsewhere to make ends meet. At least some of them will leave the profession entirely. This will increase the shortage in attendant services, which will in turn force many disabled people into institutions, as even the DOL has admitted.

The Disability Community is very concerned about the harm these changes will have on the lives of people with disabilities and their attendants. Because of this concern, the Disability Community has been contacting members of Congress to warn them of the consequences of implementing this rule before states are prepared to pay the overtime and travel time the rule requires. House Democrats, including Congresswoman Slaughter, have not returned our calls. On the other hand, Republicans in Congress have said they are interested in legislation that will undo the DOL rule entirely. If Democrats continue to avoid this issue, they leave the Disability Community no choice but to support the Republicans’ proposal.  The entire Disability Community certainly knows how important attendants are, and supports paying attendants a fair, living wage, but without money in the budget to pay overtime, the DOL rule will only cause states to cut attendant service hours. Far from helping attendants make ends meet, the rule will cost jobs and interrupt services to disabled people.

Whether intended or not, the consequences of this rule to the Disability Community are disastrous, and it is troubling that Democrats in Congress have refused even to discuss this issue. Changes to the law that will interrupt vital and necessary services require the best efforts of both parties, but Democrats like Congresswoman Slaughter can just barely pay lip service to the Disability Community on this issue.

Pick up the phone, Congresswoman; it’s your constituents calling.

UPDATE 10/21/14 at 3:30pm:

Following the original publication of this blog post, a representative from Congresswoman Slaughter’s office did call us to speak about this issue. Despite what her representative said last week, Congresswoman Slaughter’s aide said the Congresswoman supports the DOL overtime rule.

By contrast, State Senator Joseph Robach (R-NY Sen. 56) is supporting the Disability Community by asking US Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY 23) to introduce legislation to pre-empt this overtime rule before it takes effect. On this issue, it’s clear that the Republicans are the ones supporting the Disability Community.