The primary is over, and now it’s crunch time to come up with a state budget. A key fiscal battle is pitting legislative Democrats against the governor in overtime pay for in-home care workers.
Last fall, the federal government changed the overtime rules for caregivers who cook, bathe and provide other help for elderly or disabled people who live in their own homes. Starting next January, caregivers are entitled to overtime pay for any hours they work exceeding 40 in each week.
Gov. Jerry Brown says California can’t afford the overtime pay. He wants to cap workers’ hours to avoid triggering the overtime rules. The budget proposals he released in January and May reflect this cap, as well as rate cuts for in-home health care providers.
“Whether it’s the overtime or the provider rates or the courts or any of the other items, we have to squeeze it out of the current budget,” Brown said at a press conference about his latest budget proposal last month. “This is one cut on how to do it. Others will see differently, but at the end of the day we have to live within the revenue.”
Families and disability rights advocates are terrified of the consequences. They say a cap on hours will force people to hire strangers to perform intimate care duties they only trust their regular caregiver to do.
“It’s not like, 'I’ll take Pepsi instead of Coke.' They’re not interchangeable,” said Deborah Doctor, a disability rights lobbyist.
She says it's hard enough to find a suitable home worker as it is. The pay is low -- an average of $10 an hour -- and the work is messy and grueling. Doctor says few are willing to take on the kinds of tasks one caregiver provides for a disabled woman in Los Angeles.
“She does bowel extraction every week. So we think there’s going to be someone just dying to do this?” she says.
The state estimates it will cost around $186 million from the general fund to cover the overtime costs of in-home workers. Legislative Democrats argue the state can cover these costs now that its finances are in better shape -- both the Senate and Assembly budget committees have proposed allocating money for the overtime pay.
But Brown has been advocating for fiscal restraint and bolstering the state’s rainy day fund. It remains to be seen what the governor will sign into law.