WASHINGTON, D.C. | November 20, 2013 -
America’s families are hurting. More than 11 million workers are searching for a job. Wages are stagnant. Pain is felt every day at the gas pump. Health care costs are rising. And now millions are losing the health care plan they like thanks to the president’s government-run health care scheme.
We should be working together to revive our struggling economy. We should be working across the aisle on solutions that will lift the middle class and spur job growth. We should set aside our differences and advance bold reforms that will raise the wages of all working Americans and create opportunity for all who seek it.
I wish we were here today to discuss a proposal by the president that would help us achieve these goals. Unfortunately, no such proposal exists. Instead, we are here to examine something that is all too common under this administration: A new regulation that will create more hardship for some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens. Congress has a responsibility to conduct oversight of the rules put forth by the administration, especially those that do more harm than good. Today’s hearing is part of that effort.
For nearly 40 years Congress has recognized the invaluable service delivered by in-home companion care workers. In 1974 the Fair Labor Standards Act was extended to workers providing domestic services, but Congress deliberately exempted in-home companion care workers. This wasn’t because lawmakers valued these workers less than other domestic workers. Quite the opposite: policymakers realized many Americans rely upon the support of companion care workers in order to maintain a safe, healthy, and productive lifestyle in their own homes.
The need for in-home companionship care is tremendous, especially among elderly and disabled individuals. Roughly 57 percent of people receiving these services are age 65 or older and approximately 73 percent have functional limitations. The intent of Congress was to protect a vulnerable group of Americans, yet that protection is being discarded by the Obama administration.
A regulation finalized by the Department of Labor eliminates the exemption for companion care workers employed by a third-party, as well as the exemption for workers jointly employed by a third-party and the individual receiving care. Only caregivers hired directly by the person in need or a family member are eligible to receive the exemption. While that may sound like a simple rule, it is not. Under these circumstances, caregivers still have to follow a rigid set of arbitrary standards in order to receive the exemption Congress created.
For example, the caregiver can only spend 20 percent of a workweek performing personal care duties, which the department says includes dressing, grooming, feeding, and light housework. The delivery of care can only be offered in conjunction with fellowship and protection, which the rule defines – again arbitrarily – to include conversation, reading, games, errands, and walks, as well as monitoring safety and well being. The department even goes so far as to define what is acceptable and unacceptable household work.
This is a highly prescriptive, intrusive standard imposed on vulnerable Americans. How are they supposed to track and maintain records on the services their caregivers provide? Will they be subject to audit and punishment by federal authorities if they fail to follow every dictate prescribed in the regulation? Why does the administration believe it has the authority to micromanage the care an individual receives in the comfort of his or her own home?
Last year I urged the administration to offer a clear and compelling reason why this regulation was necessary, especially at a time when so many Americans are struggling to get by. To date they have failed to do so. Platitudes about babysitters and other political rhetoric don’t justify this significant departure from long-standing companion care policies. The consequences will be far reaching.
Those who directly employ caregivers will simply terminate those relationships; the costs and uncertainty of complying with the new mandates will be too great. Others will have less access to affordable in-home companion care. The daily routine and personalized care seniors and individuals with disabilities rely upon will be disrupted. Some will have no choice but to leave their homes and enter institutional living. And let us not forget that workers will also be hurt as their employers restrict hours to help manage costs.
Companion caregivers often work long hours and under difficult circumstances. The services they provide are critical. They – like all Americans – deserve responsible solutions that will help grow our economy and promote the income security of their families. Regrettably, the administration’s effort to redefine companion care moves our country in the opposite direction. In fact, I’m afraid it will make the challenges facing these workers and vulnerable Americans worse. They deserve better. They deserve our support.