Home Care Overtime Policy Creates ‘Panic and Fear’ in Illinois

The rollout of a home care worker overtime policy in one U.S. state has resulted in “distrust, fear of retaliation, and flat out panic” among home care workers and the residents they serve.

That’s according to SEIU Healthcare Illinois, a union representing about 8,500 Illinois home care workers, as well as the National Employment Law Project, Access Living, Caring Across Generations and the Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living.

Together, the groups published a white paper that argues against capping working hours for personal assistants in Illinois’ Home Services Program (HSP) at 40 hours per week, and alleges the limits on overtime hours have propelled the care system into disarray, threaten Olmstead protections for Illinoisans with disabilities, and are being implemented through threats and intimidation from state agency offices.

The Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) did not respond to Home Health Care News’ request for comment by press time.

Long-running budget battles in the Midwestern state have been exacerbated by a new federal rule guaranteeing overtime to home care workers for the first time. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, and the Democrats who control the state legislature reached a stalemate over a budget that was supposed to go into effect July 1. Rauner’s administration has said it can’t afford the additional time-and-a-half pay for home care workers who work overtime without a state budget in place to control spending.

So, since May 1, Illinois HSP workers have only been allowed to work 35 hours a week, with an additional five hours a week for travel. Some HSP workers are permitted to work overtime hours if their patients qualify based on a need score, and workers who do log overtime hours are required to submit a Home Services Program Overtime Justification Form to a local office for approval and reimbursement.

Advocacy groups say this all just isn’t working out.

As a result of the overtime capping policy, some Illinois residents receiving care in their homes are required to hire additional help if they require more than 40 hours of care per week and do not meet “the very narrow exceptions policy,” the white paper says. But patients in smaller, more rural communities are particularly having trouble finding skilled, reliable caregivers to work part-time hours at a low pay rate with few benefits, the white paper adds.

Home care workers statewide are being refused overtime forms at their local DHS offices, the white paper says. At some locations, forms are unavailable.

And although the state of Illinois has added an additional 5,000 personal assistants who are available for hire, data provided by the Illinois Department of Human Services to SEIU Healthcare Illinois shows the state usually requires an inflow of approximately 9,400 new workers per year simply to replace the workers who leave the program each year, the white paper says.

Additionally, the state has an obligation under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Olmstead Supreme Court decision to guarantee its implementation of the federal overtime rules do not place people at serious risk of institutionalization. But, the “very narrow” exceptions policy currently in place in Illinois does not comply with Olmstead and the ADA, the white paper says; instead, the exceptions policy provides zero flexibility or guidance to consumers who find themselves at risk of being forced into a skilled nursing facility.

As it stands, the state of Illinois’ policy does not reflect the input of any of the stakeholders in the program—besides the state itself, the white paper says. Meanwhile, the rollout of the federal overtime wage rule has gone well in other states besides Illinois, such as Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Minnesota, Washington, New York and Florida, have taken a more measured approach to the federal overtime rule implementation, the white paper says.

Gov. Rauner and his administration should “immediately suspend their myopic, misguided, harmful overtime caps policy, and to return to the table and bargain with stakeholders to develop a just policy that does not infringe upon the rights, independence, and dignity of people with disabilities, and does not adversely impact the caregiver workforce,” the coalition urges.

The Illinois government, meanwhile, is pushing back.

Illinois’ overtime capping policy would have been implemented regardless of whether the state was experiencing a budget stalemate, the Illinois DHS told Progress Illinois.

Additionally, the Rauner administration is not prohibiting time-and-a-half overtime pay for HSP workers, though it is requesting that they justify their overtime, the department said. Overall, Rauner’s administration has suggested appropriating approximately $15 million annually to cover the expenses associated with overtime pay for HSP providers, the department added.

Several HSP providers have been approved for overtime, the department said. Collectively, they have been paid more than $3 million in time-and-a-half pay during the first few months of this year.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson