Disabled, caregivers rally against hours cap

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2016/09/21/disabled-caregivers-rally-against-hours-cap/

Individuals with disabilities rallied against a new Baker administration policy and appealed to lawmakers, telling them their independence and access to caregivers is at risk.

According to the Disability Policy Consortium, restrictions took effect Sept. 1 that cap the number of hours that personal care attendants can work at 40 per week, or up to 60 in some cases. The policy is causing attendants to seek second jobs and forcing individuals with disabilities to try and find new, trustworthy caregivers, according to the advocacy group.

The consortium is appealing to lawmakers for a “common sense solution” and has recommended a 66-hour threshold for overtime and a “special circumstances” exemption for individuals with needs “that place them at serious risk of institutionalization of segregation.”

“Consumers and caregivers from across Massachusetts are collaborating to reach out to state legislators because these restrictions could dramatically disrupt the care for thousands of our state’s most vulnerable residents,” John Winske, executive director of the consortium, said in a statement. “Many in Massachusetts depend on the excellent care of their personal care attendants so they can live at home, independently with dignity and we’re hopeful we can find a compromise on these restrictions to ensure the continued delivery of quality home care.”

Sen. Barbara L’Italien said other states have caps that are higher than 40 hours, a level that she said is not going to serve individuals with disabilities. The cap will impede the ability for people to get to work, she said. “I think it’s really shortsighted,” L’Italien told the News Service. “I hope that the governor will reconsider and will actually meet with folks. This isn’t about dollars and cents. It’s about people.”

In June, Baker administration officials said the PCA program had grown 23 percent from $574 million to a projected $704 million for fiscal 2017.

“MassHealth is committed to a sustainable and robust PCA program and believes it is a critical service for MassHealth members with chronic or physical disabilities to maintain their community independence,” MassHealth spokesperson Michelle Hillman said in a statement Tuesday. “The Baker-Polito Administration was pleased to reach an agreement last June with SEIU 1199 to become the first state in the nation to achieve a statewide $15 per hour starting wage for personal care attendants. This year’s budget includes $80M in PCA program expansion and overtime payment for PCAs, increasing expenditures by $130M over the past two years and there will be no changes in services or program cuts for individuals.”

Administration officials say MassHealth has established a transition period through the end of 2016 to implement the policy and is committed to ensuring that members receive PCA services while managing overtime.

— Written by Michael Norton

Copyright State House News Service

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