Brownback urges disabled, caregivers to fight federal labor rules

08/21/2014 7:51 PM

08/21/2014 9:16 PM

Gov. Sam Brownback sought on Thursday to enlist people with disabilities and their families to campaign against new federal labor rules that would require some care workers to get overtime pay and others to be paid by the hour instead of a nightly lump sum.

The change, according to the governor and his Department for Aging and Disability Services, would cost the state millions of dollars that could be better spent.

“I’m not sure the federal government knew the unintended consequences of this,” Brownback said. “We think the cost numbers are pretty significant for us as a state and it’s going to reduce our ability to get people off of waiting lists and further services in the state of Kansas to the tune of about $30 million additional cost in the system for no additional services.”

Brownback said the new rules could force people with disabilities out of their homes and into institutional care.

For the past 40 years, care workers for people with disabilities have been defined as domestic help, which meant they could work more than 40 hours without triggering overtime pay. The state’s procedure for that is that disabled people were classified as their care workers’ employers.

Under the new Labor Department regulations, the state of Kansas and the financial management service and managed care organizations it employs will be considered joint employers with the disabled person, meaning the care worker would have to be paid overtime when working more than 40 hours a week.

Another part of the system that’s affected is “sleep care,” where a care worker sleeps in the client’s home and gets up periodically to provide services required during the night.

Sleep-cycle workers are now paid between $31 and $36 a night. The new rules would require those workers be paid an hourly rate instead, state officials said.

The new rules are scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

At Thursday’s meeting, Brownback said he has sent a letter to the Labor Department asking for an exemption or implementation delay on the new rules. He said he’s also contacted the Kansas congressional delegation and state legislators asking them to join his request.

He also called directly on people with disabilities and their caregivers to contact the White House, Congress and the Labor Department to tell their stories of how the rule could personally harm their care. He said Kansas and other states will be organizing a “call-in day” with the aim of flooding the Labor Department with complaints on a single day.

During a question and answer session following Brownback’s remarks, a majority of the attendees appeared to agree that they would support the governor’s call to action. Many expressed concerns that if they couldn’t employ a single care giver – often a family member – for more than 40 hours a week, they’d have to bring new workers into their homes.

William Campbell came to the meeting with his attendant, KassAndra Smith. He said he gets 51 hours of care a week and that even if he could find someone willing to work 11 of those hours, it would threaten his health to have to split care between two attendants.

“I have an autoimmune problem,” Campbell said. “I can’t have anybody in my house that’s got a cold. I can’t go in the hospital because of infection. I sure as heck can’t go in a nursing home. So you know, it scares the crud out of me.”

Not everybody in the audience agreed with the governor’s read on the situation.

Several people, who asked that their names not be used because of fear of retaliation from employers or trouble with state agencies, said they think the answer to the problem is to just pay the overtime.

One man, whose wife has cared for the same disabled woman for 15 years, characterized the overtime exemption as a loophole and said the state needs to step up now that the federal government is closing it.

“Caretakers should be considered an employee just like any other employee in any other business,” he said. “But for some reason when it comes to the people with disabilities, the caretakers are treated substandard to all other people that are in the workforce.”

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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