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Home care workers gain protections

New US rule widens overtime, wage coverage

NEW YORK — The Obama administration said Tuesday that it was extending minimum wage and overtime protections to the nation’s nearly 2 million home care workers.

Advocates for low-wage workers have pushed for this change, asserting that home care workers, who care for elderly and disabled Americans, were wrongly classified into the same “companionship services” category as baby sitters — a group that is exempt from minimum wage and overtime coverage.

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Under the new rule, home care aides, unlike baby sitters, would be protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the nation’s main wage and hour law.

In an unusual move, the administration said the new regulation would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2015, even though regulations often take effect 60 days after being issued.

The delay until 2015 is to give families that use these attendants, and state Medicaid programs, time to prepare for the new rule.

Industry experts say most of these workers are already paid at least the minimum wage, but many do not receive a time-and-a-half overtime premium when they work more than 40 hours a week. About 20 states exclude home care workers from their wage and hour laws.

“We think the workers providing this critical work should be receiving the same basic protection and coverage as the vast majority of American workers,” said Laura Fortman, deputy administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. “We’ve seen a lot of turnover in this industry, and we believe that this new rule will stabilize the workforce.”

The nation’s home care workers usually earn $8.50-$12 an hour, according to industry officials. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

According to the Obama administration, almost 40 percent of aides receive government benefits like food stamps and Medicaid. Ninety-two percent of these workers are female, almost 30 percent are black, and 12 percent are Hispanic.

The administration disclosed the change 21 months after first proposing the rule and after having received 26,000 public comments, many of them from for-profit home care agencies that opposed it.

Many labor advocates criticized the administration for taking so long to issue its final rule, but Labor Department officials said reviewing the comments and holding related public meetings took time.

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