In coming weeks, the White House is expected to finalize key new rules on overtime pay that could benefit an estimated 6 million lower-paid salaried workers. Workers' advocates say it's a long-awaited change. Most employer groups vocally oppose the new rules, because they might have to raise their minimum salaries, pay overtime — or limit their workers' hours.
Much of the debate has pitted workers against employers.
But at least one group is sympathetic to both sides: the American Network of Community Options and Resources, or ANCOR, an association that represents employers offering support services to intellectually disabled people.
ANCOR doesn't oppose the rules, because it wants to pay its workers more. At the same time, member employers won't be able to comply with the rules, because their revenue relies on Medicaid reimbursement rates, which aren't set to change.
"When we brought this issue to our board, the response was emphatically, 'Yes, we want to pay the people that work for us what they're worth,' " says Gabrielle Sedor, chief operating officer of ANCOR.
But the states set Medicaid reimbursement increases, and those typically take a lot of time to change, she says.
Numbers That Don't Work
Currently, most salaried workers earning less than $23,660 a year are automatically eligible for overtime pay. With the changes, that salary threshold is expected to roughly double — making far more people eligible for overtime.
A study commissioned by ANCOR shows if the industry adjusts by increasing overtime pay, it will increase costs by about $1 billion. If it raises salaries for those under the anticipated new salary threshold, the added costs could be nearly $2 billion.
The numbers, Sedor says, don't work.
"What's most troubling to me is that over 20 percent thought that they would be forced to reduce services, and that's a real challenge, because in every state the need for services to people with intellectual disabilities is growing," she says.
And that might have an impact on people like Thomas Mangrum, who has a helper come to his row house in Washington, D.C., every weekday.
For 15 years, Mangrum has been wheelchair-bound due to spinal injuries, and also has difficulty reading because of a childhood brain injury. Mangrum has a helper, John Floyd, who cooks, cleans, opens his mail and takes him to appointments.
While Floyd is there most days, sometimes things happen during off-hours. The previous weekend, Mangrum was stranded, alone, with a broken wheelchair, so Floyd's employer, RCM, had to dispatch someone to fix it.
That requires odd hours of work that the new overtime rules might limit, because it would mean paying additional overtime.
Amy Brooks, RCM's chief executive, says her company and others will likely lobby states for a Medicaid rate increase, but "it often takes a lot of time, because states have to get approval for rate changes, so that's not gonna be an easy fix."
Difficult Balance Between Costs And Services
Meanwhile, Diana Hernandez, RCM's human resources manager, says she has considered staggering shifts, or offering compensatory time off for hours worked instead of increasing pay. But she cannot reduce pay or she'll lose staff, and she can't cut staff because she doesn't want to hurt clients.
"Talking about the different scenarios, none of them seem like the right way to go for us," Hernandez says. "And so we know that we have to come up with something, but we don't want to lose services to the people. I mean, that's why we're here, that's why we do what we do."
Ivan Parker is a coordinator who manages caregivers and their schedules for RCM, and he worries about other effects. Caregivers aren't interchangeable, he says; they know their patients' routines and they have relationships.
"When you disrupt these peoples' lives, they have behaviors, because their schedules are disrupted," Parker says. His schedule doesn't neatly fit into a 40-hour workweek, he says.
Mangrum, sitting nearby, chimes in. Disabilities, he says, don't only affect people between the hours of 9 and 5.
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The White House is finalizing new rules on overtime pay. The rules could benefit an estimated 6 million lower-paid salary workers. Employers, meanwhile, would have to either raise their minimum salaries, pay overtime or limit their workers' hours.
Most employer groups vocally opposed the rules, but not all. One group says its members who serve the intellectually disabled want to pay their workers more but might not be able to afford to. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Thomas Mangrum has a helper come to his rowhouse in Washington, D.C. every weekday.
THOMAS MANGRUM: I need help keeping my house clean and whatnot 'cause I can't really do that on my own anymore. And bending down and whatnot - I can't really do that and standing up over the stove cooking. I can't...
NOGUCHI: At 6-foot-4, Mangrum is a big man. To move about the house, he maneuvers a wheelchair around his pet birds' cages.
MANGRUM: OK. Let me back up here.
NOGUCHI: In addition to spinal injuries, Mangrum has intellectual disabilities.
MANGRUM: I have trouble reading. I've had a (unintelligible) disability all my life. I was in a car accident when I was 2 years old.
NOGUCHI: So his helper, John Floyd, opens and reads the mail.
JOHN FLOYD: OK. This is from Medicaid.
NOGUCHI: Floyd also helps keep Mangrum's schedule and travels with him to appointments.
FLOYD: Hello? OK. Give me one second. It's Med Inc. calling.
MANGRUM: Med Inc.?
MANGRUM: They want to come today or something?
NOGUCHI: Floyd's employer, RCM, says managing cases like Mangrum's requires flexible work hours because things happen. The previous weekend, Mangrum was stranded alone with a broken wheelchair, so they dispatched someone to fix it.
The new overtime rules might limit that kind of flexibility. Currently most salaried workers earning less than about $24,000 year are automatically eligible for overtime pay. With the changes, that salary threshold is expected to roughly double, making far more people eligible for overtime. Employers will have to either pay workers more or cut back hours.
RCM CEO Amy Brooks says just charging more isn't an option. She relies exclusively on Medicaid reimbursement, and those rates are slow to increase.
AMY BROOKS: It often takes a lot of time because states have to get approval for rate changes, so that's not going to be an easy fix.
NOGUCHI: Diana Hernandez is RCM's human resources manager. She's considered staggering shifts or offering compensatory time off, but she cannot reduce pay or she'll lose staff. And she can't cut staff because she doesn't want to hurt clients.
DIANA HERNANDEZ: Talking about the different scenarios and none of them seemed like the right way to go for us, and so we know that we have to come up with something. But we don't want to lose services to the people. I mean, that's why we're here. That's why we do what we do.
NOGUCHI: Many other support service providers like RCM are in the same boat. Gabrielle Sedor is chief operating officer at ANCOR, which represents service providers. She says her member companies want to be able to pay their employees more, but without extra revenue, the new requirements would likely force cutbacks.
GABRIELLE SEDOR: What's most troubling to me is that over 20 percent thought that they would be forced to reduce services. And that's a real challenge because in every state, the need for services to people with intellectual disabilities is growing.
NOGUCHI: She says some are even considering shutting down. Meanwhile, back in Mangrum's rowhouse, Ivan Parker worries about other effects. Parker is a coordinator who manages caregivers and their schedules. Caregivers aren't interchangeable, he says. They know their patients' routines, and they have relationships.
IVAN PARKER: When you disrupt these people's lives, they have behaviors because their schedule's interrupted.
NOGUCHI: So how many hours a week do you work?
PARKER: It's supposed be 40, but it's whatever. If I get a call - three or four calls in the morning, I'm up.
NOGUCHI: Mangrum, sitting nearby, chimes in. Disabilities, he says, don't only affect people between the hours of 9 and 5. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.