Obama Seeks Minimum Wage Coverage for Home Health-Care Aides

The Obama administration is proposing new rules to extend minimum wage and overtime coverage for almost 2 million workers who provide home health-care services for the elderly and infirm.

The proposal by the U.S. Labor Department would protect health-care aides under the Fair Labor Standards Act and reflect the changing nature of domestic workers as an aging U.S. population creates greater demand for long-term care in homes, according to the White House.

President Barack Obama, appearing with home health-care aides at the White House to highlight the plan, said such workers are now classified the same as teenage babysitters and may be paid less than the minimum wage, even when working 70 hours a week.

“That’s just wrong,” Obama said. “They deserve to be treated fairly. They deserve to be paid fairly for a service that many older Americans couldn’t live without.”

Such workers are now classified as “companions” and exempt from the 1974 minimum wage law. The change will ensure that those workers are properly compensated for the work they do, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in a statement.

“The care provided by in-home workers is crucial to the quality of life for many families,” Solis said. “The vast majority of these workers are women, many of whom serve as the primary breadwinner for their families.”

Minimum Wage Coverage

The proposal by the Labor Department would require that minimum wages be applied to workers offering tube feeding, wound care, physical therapy and a variety of other health-related services, according to the White House. Twenty-nine states don’t cover such workers with minimum wage protection, the administration said.

Some Republicans criticized the proposal as more anti-business regulation from the Obama administration.

“Once again, the administration is pursuing new regulations without regard for the potential unintended consequences,” Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican and chairman of the House Labor and Workforce Committee, said in an e-mailed statement. “The likely result of this new rule is reduced hours for home-care workers and higher costs for taxpayers.”

Agency Workers

Of the 1.8 million home-care workers, 1.6 million are employed by staffing agencies. More than 92 percent are women, almost 30 percent are black and 12 percent are Hispanic. Almost 40 percent of them rely on public aid such as Medicaid and food stamps, according to the administration.

“At a time when we are rightfully focused on creating jobs, this rule will improve working conditions in a growing industry, attract more workers to it and better position the country for the future,” Debra Ness, president of the Washington-based advocacy group National Partnership for Women & Families, said in an e-mailed statement.

Demand for health-care aides is rising. The government projects the number of elderly who are disabled to some degree will jump in coming years as the U.S. population over age 65 increases. There may be as many as 22.6 million disabled elderly in 2040 from about 5.1 million in 1986, according to the Administration on Aging.

There will be a 60-day public comment period and the new rules may take effect early next year.