The Senate gets its home care bill

Sen. Robert Casey this week introduced legislation to expand the nation's minimum wage and overtime laws to hundreds of thousands of home care workers, who are currently excluded from those protections.

The reforms will be needed, the Pennsylvania Democrat argued, both to end the decades-old discrimination against those workers and to expand the home care workforce to meet the ever-growing need for the services they offer.

"Our Commonwealth, as well as the rest of the nation, is facing a serious problem: providing access to a quality workforce for an aging population,” Casey said in a statement announcing the bill. “The baby boom generation will start turning 65 next year and will begin to qualify for Medicare. By 2030, all 78 million will have reached that age. As this population ages, they will place new demands on our health care system." 

"We have a responsibility to do this and to get it right."

In 1974, Congress extended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to provide wage protections to many direct care workers, including certified nursing assistants and home health aides. But the law specifically excluded workers offering so-called “companionship services,” the category where the Labor Department has put home care workers.

As a result, home care workers tend to receive lower wages and fewer benefits than most other professionals, leading to a high turnover that threatens seniors' access to in-home healthcare services.

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) introduced an identical bill in the House last week.

“Finally, the voices of these hardworking men and women have been heard," Leonila Vega, executive director of the Direct Care Alliance, said of the legislation. "Clearly, the time has come to end unfair labor practices."