Kansas fights labor rule for home health workers

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The federal government may not know the “unintended consequences” of a planned labor rule that aims to protect domestic service workers, Gov. Sam Brownback said Thursday.

Brownback met Thursday with home health-care givers and their charges at the Independent Living Resource Center to rally public opposition to the regulation, which would require overtime pay for such workers under federal wage laws.

“We are fearful it is going to lead to further institutionalization of people,” Brownback said, alarming many in the audience who depend on such workers so they can live at home rather than an institution.

But some domestic service workers, many of whom are family members caring for disabled relatives, also urged the governor to have the Medicaid-funded program that provides the care pay them a fair wage.

The rule, which takes effect Jan. 1, gets rid of the “companionship exemption” to the Fair Labor Standards Act and creates overtime requirements for homecare workers and personal care attendants. Kansas has asked U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez for an exemption or delay for disabled and older Kansas residents who direct their own care.

The U.S. Labor Department contends the rule is designed to ensure domestic service workers are protected by federal wage and overtime rules.

Currently, the exemption allows such domestic workers to work more than 40 hours without triggering overtime, meaning consumers could “self-direct” home care, hiring and scheduling whomever they wanted without paying overtime. The change in the Medicaid home and community-based services program would consider consumers joint employers.

The state of Kansas contends that paying for overtime would increase the cost of services, and that the rule would affect about 11,000 residents who direct their own personal attendant and home based-services. The salaries of domestic workers vary depending on the services provided, but can range from minimum wage to more than $11 an hour. About 20 percent of domestic workers in Kansas regularly work more than 40 hours a week, the state said.

Another 1,400 people receive sleep-cycle support services, meaning they pay someone a flat per-night rate to stay in their home while they are sleeping in case they need help. Under the new rule, the state estimates it would cost more than $30 million, or $21,428 per person, to continue the sleep cycle support.

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