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Public Statements

Companion Care Workers Bill

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. WALBERG. Rising health care costs remain a top concern for many Americans, particularly the Baby Boomers heading off into retirement and individuals with disabilities. However, one service in particular--home companion care--has come under attack from the Department of Labor and faces a sharp rise in costs. Currently, the Fair Labor Standards Act provides exemptions for home care workers. And for more than four decades now, the exemption has helped seniors and individuals with disabilities maintain access to affordable in-home care.

Companion care workers play a crucial role for those who desire to remain independent, performing a range of everyday tasks like helping to prepare meals, opening the mail, providing light housekeeping, and even offering someone to talk with, which is immensely helpful. However, the greatest service these individuals play is providing families with a sense that mom or dad or their loved ones are not alone when we need to be away.

But in December of 2011, the Department of Labor introduced a proposal championed by President Obama to remove the companionship exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act, a move which would virtually eliminate the current exemption. On top of that, it will raise costs for businesses and families and lead to reduced hours for home companion care workers. Even the Department estimates the cost of companion care under the proposed rule may increase by up to $2.3 billion over the first 10 years. It will be families and seniors and the disabled that will struggle to pay these costs out of their own pockets. These changes run in stark contrast to what Congress intended when it first established this important exemption nearly four decades ago. While I recognize the delivery of services has evolved over the years, the need to maintain access to affordable in-home care has not.

Seniors and the disabled in my home State of Michigan have been devastated by the fallout from this flawed policy. In 2006, Michigan made similar changes to the State law that the Department of Labor is currently considering. This was confirmed by a constituent in my home State who testified that his home companion care business, employees, and clients are worse off since the change went into effect. Seniors, those with disabilities, and their families are often unable to pay higher prices for the overtime requirement, forcing them to take on different caregivers throughout the day. This disruption to their schedule takes away the certainty of working with trusted caregivers. Many seniors and individuals with disabilities are then left with no choice but to leave their own homes because of the cost.

In response, I have introduced two bills to ensure seniors and individuals with disabilities keep their access to affordable companion care. Both bills will also prevent the Federal Government from interfering with decisions that should be made by families. The first bill, H.R. 5969, the Ensuring Access to Affordable and Quality Companion Care Act, will clarify that home caregivers employed by a third-party employer or living with the individuals receiving care continue to be exempt from the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The second, H.R. 5970, The Protecting in-Home Care From Government Intrusion Act, will stop the Secretary of Labor from finalizing or enforcing a proposed rule that severely narrows the Fair Labor Standards Act exemption for in-home caregivers.

If the Obama administration's proposal is not stopped, home care workers will lose hours and possibly their jobs. Seniors and those with disabilities will lose affordable care they want and need. This is simply a risk that we cannot afford to take.

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