DC Councilmember Aims To Put Some Teeth Into Living Wage Law

Seems that some health care workers aren’t getting the wages they’re due under the District’s living wage law. DC Councilmember David Catania aims to do something about this, with a bill that would put real teeth into the applicable requirement.

A bit of background here.

As I recently wrote, the District’s minimum wage law covers home care workers, though federal minimum wage rules don’t.

But home care workers employed by agencies with Medicaid contracts are supposed to get more — specifically, the higher hourly wage required under the Living Wage Act.

The same is true for employees of Medicaid contractors that operate community residential facilities and group homes for people with intellectual disabilities.

The Living Wage Act was passed in 2006, but these Medicaid contractors were exempt until the District issued implementing regulations. A mere five years later, it finally has.

Councilmember Catania asserts that he and staff “have been inundated by evidence that frontline workers continue to receive wages that are well below the $12.50 per hour” that the latest annual adjustment in the living wage requires.

Evidence here may include a paycheck review conducted by the SIEU local that represents home care workers at one of the contractor agencies. An organizer told me that all 150 were paid less than the living wage. Shortfalls verified thus far average $1.75 per hour.

Many of the under-paid workers, Catania says, “are unable to care for themselves and their families due to extremely low wages.” This, he implies, may distract from the challenges of providing high-quality care “for our most vulnerable and fragile residents.”

Probably also creates undue pressures on public benefits programs, including Medicaid. If those underpaid home care workers have full-time, year-round assignments, they’ll earn $22,360 — well under the District’s Medicaid income cutoffs for working parents and their children.

What really seems to have gotten Catania’s goat is a recent audit by the DC Inspector General, which found that executives in some of the Medicaid-funded agencies were getting paid far more than industry standards — “more than the President of the United States,” he exclaims.

Lots more in some cases. Salaries for the top five averaged nearly $315,290.

So it isn’t as if these Medicaid contractors can’t afford to pay the living wage. What they can’t afford, if Catania’s bill passes, is to go on ignoring it. Because they would then become ineligible for further funding from the District’s Medicaid program.

Why, I wonder, is there no comparable penalty for all contractors covered by the living wage law? Seems that the worst that can happen to them is an order to pay what they should have been paying all along.

Meanwhile, we District taxpayers are subsidizing their savings because at least some underpaid workers earn so little as to qualify for public benefits. Don’t look for much in tax revenues from them either.

So non-complying contractors profit from our tax dollars, but they effectively put the squeeze on local programs our community needs. On our striving, lower-income residents too.

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