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Should home care workers for SSD recipients get the minimum wage?

Even in the best situations, home health aides aren't paid high salaries. One such worker recently interviewed for a Kaiser Health News story makes more than the federal minimum wage and gets paid at time-and-a-half for overtime, which is often mandatory. The national average annual salary for these valued individuals who make living at home possible for many Social Security disability beneficiaries, however, is $21,830. Assuming 50 weeks of paid work, that works out to $436.60 a week.

The fact is, home care workers are specifically excluded from minimum wage and overtime protection under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Yes, that means they could be paid less than minimum wage by an unscrupulous provider. Only 21 states and Washington, D.C., require home health aides to be paid the minimum wage and overtime. Georgia is not one of those states.

In Dec. 2011, the Obama Administration proposed changing the Fair Labor Standards Act to include, at the very least, home care workers who are paid by third parties, such as agencies. The change would more precisely define the position and duties of home health aides and entitle them to the federal minimum wage plus time-and-a-half pay for hours worked beyond 40 in a single week.

“They work hard and play by the rules and they should see that work and responsibility rewarded,” the President said at the time.

That proposal is not without its critics, however. For the past year and a half, the proposed change has been under intense scrutiny by regulators, and thousands of comments from interested parties have been filed.

The primary critic is the home health services industry, which pays the aides. Their main concern is how expensive it would be to pay their workers at the same rate as virtually all other workers in the U.S. On the other end of the spectrum, Social Security disability beneficiaries and other people with disabilities are concerned that the added cost would force them to cut back on or even do without these vital services. Health aides themselves worry that their employers will respond by cutting hours.

The boss of the woman interviewed by Kaiser seems to have her priorities straight when it comes to quality home health aides. “This is a job that requires training, it requires skills, it requires compassion, it requires the ability to work independently,” she told Kaiser. “It’s a very challenging, demanding, yet gratifying job but at a minimum should be getting minimum wage and overtime protection.”

Source: Disability Scoop, “Debate Persists Over Pay For Disability Caregivers,” Alvin Tran, Kaiser Health News, May 9, 2013

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