By Karen Kulp
One year ago, I was among the home-care workers, providers, and consumers who stood with President Obama when he proposed a regulation that would guarantee, at long last, that home-care workers receive minimum-wage and overtime protections under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The Department of Labor received 26,000 comments on the rule, 80 percent of them favorable.
Unfortunately, though, the regulatory process has dragged on, and the nation's two million home-care workers are still not fully protected by labor laws. It's time for the Obama administration to end this injustice.
Predictably, many people representing the home-care industry have attacked the proposal. They say they would have to compensate for the financial burden by charging consumers more.
As president of Philadelphia's Home Care Associates, an agency that employs more than 175, I know all about the costs of running a home-care business. And since Pennsylvania is one of 16 states that already mandates minimum-wage and overtime protections for home-care workers, I know firsthand that a successful home-care business can pay workers a fair wage.
Nearly 1.5 million home-care workers, however, work in states that don't offer such protections. Employers are allowed to pay them less than minimum wage and less than the standard time-and-a-half rate for overtime. Consequently, wages remain low across the country. The average home-health worker earns $9.70 an hour, and some must rely on public assistance.
Meanwhile, the $84 billion home-care industry is pulling in record profits, growing even during the downturn.
In my experience, decent wages ultimately lead to greater investment by workers, resulting in lower turnover rates and better care. It takes a special kind of person to do this work day in and day out, and workers stay when their work is respected and adequately rewarded.
While annual turnover rates in the industry are 50 to 60 percent, Home Care Associates' aides spend an average of more than four years on the job. This consistency improves care by allowing aides to develop relationships with clients, and it helps our bottom line by sparing us recruiting costs.
It's time to recognize the valuable role that home-care workers play. The need for them will only increase in the coming years. And many of us would not be able to work to support our own families without their assistance.