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Disability Advocates Call For Change To Caregiver Overtime Law

Jaclyn Driscoll
NPR Illinois

People with disabilities in Illinois said a recent change in state law is endangering their lives. The law limits their home-caregivers to working 45 hours a week, but they say that’s not nearly enough.

David Spurney is from a small town in Macoupin County. He has autonomic dysreflexia—a syndrome that can result in dangerous spikes in blood pressure. His personal assistant, Tami Straub, has been with him for 27 years and she’s specially trained to detect when he may have a dangerous episode. 

Spurney's careplan says he needs 71 hours of care each week. When the law took effect in August of 2017, they asked the Department of Human Services for an “overtime exception.” They were denied. Straub said they were told: “(Spurney) did not meet unique and complex needs.”

Spurney said he’s been able to avoid trips to the hospital until this law was put into place. In the last year, he's made five trips to the hospital. 

“This policy is punitive and rigid and is putting people’s lives at risk," said Spurney. "Putting a bottom line before the value of life and my ability to live with dignity and independence.”

Spurney and Straub said they’ve received “threatening” messages from DHS for Straub exceeding work-hours. But, she has not been punished so far. 

Last year Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed a measure that would have allowed caregivers to work 55 hours each week, while also making it easier for them to receive approval for additional overtime. Lawmakers did not attempt to override the veto. 

State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) said at this time, more than 500 caregivers face suspension and 4,000 have received "disciplinary occurrences" for violating the overtime rule. He could not say whether any caregivers have actually been suspended without pay or if any had been terminated. 

According to DHS spokesperson Meghan Powers, the vast majority of caregivers are complying with the overtime limits. 

The rule was also intended to "provide new jobs for the community." Since the rule went into effect, 16,000 new caregivers have been hired, Powers said. 

DHS said no caregivers have been suspended at this time. The department said they have received 775 requests for overtime exceptions. Of those, 61% were approved, 21% were denied, and the rest are still pending or were withdrawn.

Manar said he plans to try passing legislation to extend the overtime cap again later this year. 

Jaclyn has an MA in Journalism from DePaul University and a BS in History form Monmouth College. Prior to reporting, Jaclyn was a social science teacher and department chair at Greenfield High School. Previously, Jaclyn reported for WICS Newschannel 20 where she covered a variety of assignments including courts, politics, and breaking news. She also reported at Siouxland News in Sioux City Iowa, the shared CBS/Fox television newsroom. Her internships included WGN and Comcast SportsNet in Chicago.
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