Have you been following this issue over the companionship exemption to overtime requirements? If not, read about out it RIGHT NOW on the ADAPT website: http://www.adapt.org/main/dol
This issue is extremely complicated and nuanced, and I have been asked a couple really good questions that I think should be answered more publicly. By writing this, I am not meaning to limit conversation, but to broaden it. I think we are all better served by these kinds of discussions. They allow us to truly refine our national disability ‘voice’.
- WHY ARE YOU OPPOSING GOOD WAGES FOR ATTENDANTS?
We aren’t. Our organizations and the broader disability community have fought for better attendant wages and benefits for years. We continue to support that issue. We are, however, concerned that this approach maintains a zero-sum model that fails to balance the improvement of attendant wages and benefits with the needs of people with disabilities. Under these rules, people with disabilities will run the risk of increased institutionalization when the increased costs push the cost of their services above established caps.
This change also doesn’t address the funding mechanisms for these services. Contrary to DOL’s expectation, Medicaid rates are not increasing to cover the costs. Those rates won’t cover the cost of overtime. Here’s an example. On Long Island, there is a living wage requirement that attendants be paid $14.61 per hour, but the state only allows a total of $15.82 to be paid for all attendant wages and benefits in the consumer directed personal assistance program. Time and a half is $21.91 which just isn’t sustainable by the state’s Medicaid rates so attendants’ hours will be capped at 40 per week, resulting in lost attendant earnings. In New York, our experience is that this change significantly affects consumer directed programs where a significant number of attendants work more than 40 hours per week.
- ISN’T THIS POLICY INCONSISTENT WITH OUR EFFORTS TO ELIMINATE SUB-MINIMUM WAGE FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES?
No. Public policy for subminimum wage is applied to people with disabilities based on WHO people are (they have a disability). The companionship exemption is based on the type of work being done. There are often different rules for different types of workers. Another difference is that the subminimum wage rules for people with disabilities are in a context that is more akin to traditional workers and not in a zero-sum model that affects other oppressed groups.
In both cases, we are raising concerns about the negative impact of existing and proposed public policy on people with disabilities, including segregation at work or through the reduction of community based opportunities. Again, we are not opposing the rights of attendants! We just want the Obama administration to address our concerns about the negative impact that this approach will have on people with disabilities.
- YOU AREN’T TALKING ABOUT PRIVATE PAY INDIVIDUALS. WHY AREN’T YOU TALKING ABOUT THEM?
Good point! The Department of Labor already acknowledged the potential for increased institutionalization among private pay folks. We wanted to highlight that Medicaid recipients will be affected as well, but many of these issues affect both groups. In fact, the concern about the potential of these proposed changes to limit travel with an attendant is a great example of how this affects folks who pay privately.
- ARE THERE OTHER ISSUES?
Absolutely! We are just trying to get to the table for a substantive discussion. There are other concerns about how the Fair Labor Standards Act gets applied. For example, under FSLA workers cannot ‘volunteer’. We don’t know what impact that will have on the availability of informal supports. We have questions about the impact on creative living arrangements often used in the developmental disability community. DOL also didn’t adequately consider the impact that this policy will have on consumer directed services. We think a lot of the assumptions they made based on traditional home care don’t hold true in the consumer directed model. The impact on paid family caregivers hasn’t been reviewed or considered by DOL. The Obama administration needs to consider how these rules affect that system for providing long term services and supports.
- WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH?
We hope that the Obama administration will recognize that DOL needed to better engage the disability community effectively on this proposal and will bring disability and labor advocates together. With that combined expertise, we hope to develop a policy direction that supports attendants and the people they assist, so we can all work together for the common good.