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Congress considering overtime regulations proposal to help disability providers

Following the major expansion of federal overtime protections in May, providers of services to people with disabilities were left with mixed feelings.

While they supported the spirit of paying their notoriously hard-working employees more for overtime hours, the providers, which are reliant on state-set Medicaid rates for revenue, were questioning how to pay for it.

Groups of disability advocates formed an intense lobbying campaign called Save Our Services — or S.O.S., evoking the image of a sinking ship — and asked for a government lifeline.

Congress has heeded their call. This fall, the U.S. House will consider legislation that would provide higher federal funding for three years that would offset the cost of complying with the rule.

“The rule hits at a really unique and tough moment in the history of disability service providers,” said Esme Grant Grewal, senior director of government relations for the American Network of Community Options and Resources, or Ancor, a Washington, D.C., trade group pushing for federal help. It joined four other disability groups in applauding the bill’s introduction last month.

Ms. Grant Grewal characterized the disability service sector as facing chronic workforce challenges related to understaffed facilities. To force providers to cut staff or hours even more would mean a cut in services, she said. At the same time, a boost to salaries or paying overtime would help attract and retain workers to social services.

“We’re already so challenged with filling vacancy rates … how do you cap this work at 40 hours?” she said. “We’re not looking to dig a hole and up costs. If we can make things as cost efficient as possible, we will.”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s rule extended overtime pay — 150 percent of regular pay — for certain salaried workers making up to $47,476 a year. Previously, only workers making up to $23,660 a year could qualify for extra pay when they worked more than 40 hours a week, which excluded, by the agency’s estimate, about 4.2 million middle-class managerial positions in the retail, hospitality and nonprofit sectors.

To comply, business could either begin counting those workers’ hours and pay overtime wages or raise annual salaries above the $47,476 threshold to keep those employees exempt.

Businesses railed against the rule, which takes effect in December, promising it would result in layoffs and loss of opportunity and flexibility for workers.

In March, a study released by Ancor estimated disability providers would either pay a total of $1 billion to cover overtime pay or $1.9 billion to raise salaries above the new threshold.

At Turtle Creek Valley MH/MR Inc., a community mental health center in Homestead, about 70 percent of its 328 employees would suddenly qualify for overtime.

In an interview with the Post-Gazette in April, Frances Sheedy Bost, the facility’s executive director, said the move would be disastrous without funding.

“We are always in favor of increasing the salaries within the nonprofit community,” she said. “But we don’t receive funding to support both the mission and providing higher salaries.”

The proposed legislative solution, dubbed the Disability Community Act of 2016, would provide three years of temporary additional funding for disability providers through higher Federal Medical Assistance Percentage payments. Known as FMAPs, the payments are essentially the federal government’s contribution to Medicaid.

A similar method of boosting FMAP payments was included as part of the Affordable Care Act to temporarily encourage primary care doctors to see Medicaid patients.

The payments to disability providers would be calculated to effectively reimburse the businesses for overtime hours worked by employees, Ms. Grant Grewal said. Though businesses have options to comply with the rule, disability providers have little room to raise salaries.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Paul Tonko, D-NY, and Rep. Steve Stivers, R-OH. It has bipartisan support from the 61-member Congressional Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus.

Rep. Jim Langevin, a Democrat from Rhode Island who co-chairs the caucus, said in a statement that his support for the bill doesn’t undercut the Labor Department’s efforts to expand overtime. Rep. Langevin, who uses a wheelchair, is the first quadriplegic to serve in the House of Representatives.

“As someone who has lived with a disability for over 25 years, I cannot overstate the crucial role of direct support professionals,” he wrote. “We must also ensure that (an expansion of overtime) does not result in a disruption of the vital services and supports that people with disabilities and their families rely on daily.”

Daniel Moore: dmoore@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2743 and Twitter @PGdanielmoore.

Shannon McCracken

Shannon McCracken is a leader when it comes to supporting the needs of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. After a decade of experience at the two largest SCL agencies in Kentucky, she made the decision to embrace a new opportunity and start her own company, Commonwealth Case Management. While in the field, Shannon has won numerous national awards and served in multiple leadership positions, most recently with the Kentucky Association of Private Providers (KAPP). From November 2009 - 2012, she served as the Vice-President of Public Policy for the KAPP Board of Directors and served as President from 2012-2015. In 2016, KAPP made a significant investment in its future and offered Shannon a full-time position as the State Executive Director. Being so involved has enabled Shannon to stay at the leading edge and have a great understanding of what it takes to support people with disabilities.

Shannon is a graduate of Western Kentucky University...wife to Tony, mom to Davis (19) & Caroline (17.)

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