May Day: Overtime Cuts for Illinois Home Services Program Workers to Start

In an effort to avoid a budget ‘Armageddon’ as a result of higher wage costs, workers in the Illinois Home Services Program will see their weekly working hours capped at 40 hours beginning May 1st. The Prairie State has not had a budget approved by its congressional members or Governor Bruce Rauner for nearly a year, and state officials have said they cannot afford overtime wages without a budget in place.

The home health industry has recently been inundated with higher wage costs in the wake of a federal ruling last fall that extended overtime and minimum wage protections to home care workers. Additionally, several states have raised their minimum wage levels or are considering future hikes that will impact home health care agencies. Illinois has been particularly hard hit without a state budget and home health cuts on the table.

The budget issue in the state has gotten so bad that seniors who are typically eligible to receive state health care services at home are being forced into nursing homes to receive care, Crain’s reported. With funding lacking, some seniors are simply not receiving home health care as agencies are forced to cut back or close entirely, according to Crain’s. Roughly 25,000 seniors could see their home health care disappear if the budget stalemate continues.

The weekly hourly cap stems from the passage of a new Illinois Home Services Program (HSP), which is a joint employer structure between Illinois and customers of the Home Services Programs. The Program serves disabled Illinois residents under 60, and includes a range of home health and in-home care services. The new rule was originally set to begin March 1, 2016, but the State of Illinois and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) agreed to extend a grace period to May 1, 2016, for full implementation of the new policy.

Beginning May 1st, HSP workers will only be permitted to work 35 hours and allowed 5 hours for travel, regardless of the preferences of home-bound patients. Some residents receiving care in their homes may be forced to hire additional help.

There are a couple exceptions, as HSP workers  will be allowed to work overtime hours if their patients qualify based on a need score. Providers who work overtime will have to submit a Home Services Program Overtime Justification Form to a local office for approval and reimbursement.

Groups such as Access Living and SEIU Health care Illinois have urged Governor Rauner to change the policy before it goes into effect in a few weeks. Access Living, a Chicago-based organization that advocates and provides services to the disabled, previously argued to extend the implementation date to better prepare for the changes and expressed concerns for consumer choices.

Written by Amy Baxter