One month before the midterm elections, the Obama administration is scuttling a promise to extend federal labor standards to a group of home care workers, announcing it is postponing enforcement of newly enacted pay rules.
Last year, the White House issued its final rule to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers – who are more than 90% women and a majority African-American, Latino, and Asian – effective in January. Today, less than two months before the scheduled implementation, the Department of Labor quietly announced that the enforcement of this new regulation will be pushed off at least another six months until July. For the remaining six months of the year, the administration will “exercise prosecutorial discretion” when deciding whether to take action against employers who fail to pay their workers according to the new regulations.
Implementing the new rules without enforcing them is akin to establishing speed limits without putting any traffic cops on the street to enforce them.
State Medicaid agencies, which fund a large portion of home care work, told the Obama administration that they would not be ready to implement the new pay requirements by January. But president of the home care workers’ organization PHI says the states have had plenty of time:
“States have had 15 months to prepare for the implementation of the new Department of Labor rule, yet, thus far many have failed to budget or make appropriate adjustments to their Medicaid programs. Where states recognized the need to act—for example, in California and New York—they have found solutions.”
The two million home care workers across the country bathe, feed and care for the elderly and disabled. Home care is among the top three fastest growing occupations in the United States and pays a median annual income of roughly $20,000.
Home care aids are among the few remaining groups of workers who are not covered by minimum wage and overtime laws first established under the New Deal. In the 1970s, wage and hour protections were extended to domestic workers after a successful effort led by Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the daughter of a domestic worker and the first African-American woman to serve in Congress. However, home health aids were excluded by the Department of Labor when they implemented the new law.
The Clinton Administration made an attempt to extend minimum wage and overtime to home care workers but failed. In 2011, President Obama declared that this group of workers would finally be protected. Home care workers have waited 76 years to receive the federal labor protections that most workers take for granted.
They will now have to wait another year.