15 people with disabilities, caregivers, and advocates were met with arrest after blocking Van Buren and Clinton Streets to highlight Governor Bruce Rauner’s continued attack on cost-saving, community-based home services.
Through the Home Services Program, 30,000 people with disabilities are able to live in their own homes with the support of home healthcare workers known as Personal Assistants. New overtime guidelines threaten the health and independence of thousands of people with disabilities in the program, and threaten to drive thousands of Personal Assistants out of the program. 8,600 people with disabilities in the Home Services Program are impacted by the Overtime Policy statewide, in addition to 8,600 Personal Assistants.
In just a few days since the May 1 policy implementation, advocates and SEIU Healthcare Illinois, the union representing workers, are already hearing reports of threats of termination to caregivers, potential FLSA violations, and people with disabilities receiving no support from the State in locating new Personal Assistants to take over hours that their current caregivers have been barred from working.
“The overtime guidelines are unrealistic and cruel, and they don’t reflect the realities of people with disabilities who use Personal Assistants in order to live independently in their own homes,” said Mike Ervin, a person with a disability living in Chicago and member of ADAPT. “Rather than save money, the guidelines will drive providers out of the program and taxpayers will be on the hook for people with disabilities forced into nursing homes.”
The Rauner administration and DHS have gone on record over the last week offering varying accounts of what their Overtime Policy really aims to accomplish, and the degree to which their ‘three strikes and you’re out’ approach to discipline will be enforced if a worker or consumer are unable to comply. Governor Rauner has even contended that there would be pension savings from his policy , when in reality Personal Assistants are not extended any pension benefits.
“We’ve all received letters telling us if we work any hours over 40 in a pay period that it will be considered a strike against us, and after three strikes we will lose our jobs – the DHS offices are telling us the same thing,” explained Alantris Muhammad, one of the Personal Assistants who provides over 40 hours of home healthcare services per week for her consumer. “Then we hear the head of DHS go on t.v. and state that overtime hours just have to be justified and that there is no ban. Which one is it? These are people’s lives we’re talking about and if the person I care for hasn’t found a back-up worker to take over some of my hours, am I supposed to just leave her?”
In a letter from DHS that advocates received on Monday, May 2, the State claims to have hired 5,000 additional Personal Assistants who are ready to take over hours, however, standard turnover in the program means approximately 5,000 new Personal Assistants enter the program each month anyways.
People with disabilities, home healthcare workers, and disability advocates vow to continue the fight to support Home Services, a program that saves Illinois money, and promotes the independence of people with disabilities – and will continue to escalate calls for clarity on misstatements from Governor Rauner and DHS officials, suspension of the misguided Overtime Policy, and full funding for the Home Services Program in the FY 2017 budget that includes funding for overtime hours.
See Photos from event at this link