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Bridget Johnson

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March 14, 2012 - 3:42 pm

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) grilled Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis today about why a proposed rule to effectively eliminate current regulations that exempt “companionship services” and “live-in domestic services” from overtime requirements was created without even consulting “a single state’s Medicare director.”

Solis testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies on her department’s FY 2013 budget request.

This includes an “investment” to combat employee misclassification. “When workers are misclassified as independent contractors, they are deprived of benefits and protections to which they are legally entitled, such as overtime and unemployment benefits,” Solis said.

Alexander brought up a situation where seniors hire someone to live in their home or visit regularly and help them with day-to-day tasks. Eliminating the current overtime regulation exemption for these companion workers, the senator said, would mean less care for seniors and pushing them from their homes into more expensive facilities such as nursing homes in greater numbers.

This, in turn, would drive up healthcare costs in already cash-strapped states, Alexander said.

“I’m concerned that the department hasn’t sufficiently evaluated the impact of the rule on seniors who need care, on people who want jobs, and on Medicaid costs in states,” he said.

Solis responded that the exemption was originally established more for services like baby-sitting instead of in-home healthcare. She added that most of the workers are women who are having a hard time making ends meet.

“Well, if you put them out of work… they’ll really have a hard time making ends meet,” Alexander said.

“I think that one of the things that we’re attempting to do here is level the playing field because you do have some good providers, some good folks that are playing by the rules and allowing for that,” Solis said.

Alexander pointed out that there currently are no rules — it’s the Labor Department that wants to put them there.

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Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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