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Judge blocks Trump administration rule said to threaten rights of home health workers nationwide

The HHS rule — which was challenged by attorneys general in several states, including Illinois — would have made it tougher for Medicaid in-home workers to unionize.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra: HHS rule would have made it tougher for Medicaid in-home workers to unionize and seek higher pay and better working conditions as they help low-income seniors and people with disabilities bath, eat, get dressed, take medication and move about.
Rich Pedroncelli / AP

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A federal judge has blocked a Trump administration rule that opponents said would have hurt the bargaining rights of more than 500,000 home healthcare workers in California and hundreds of thousands morel workers across the nation.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria found that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rule changing Medicaid state payment requirements would have made it tougher for states to deduct employee benefits and union dues from workers’ paychecks.

And that would have made it tougher for Medicaid in-home workers to unionize and seek higher pay and better working conditions as they help low-income seniors and people with disabilities bath, eat, get dressed, take medication and move about, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said.

Chhabria denied the federal agency’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Instead, he issued a summary judgment blocking the rule adopted in 2018, which had not yet been enforced.

The challenge was filed in May 2019 by Becerra and attorneys general in Illinois, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington.

Spokesmen for the federal agency did not respond to a request for comment.

The agency had said it was required to make the change because the old system was barred by federal law.

But Chhabria said that “action was based on an erroneous interpretation of the Medicaid statute.”

Despite providing what the judge called “physically and psychologically demanding” home care services, the workers are paid a median of only $10.49 an hour nationwide, which he said makes it hard to hire and retain workers even as demand rises.

The federal agency’s “interpretation appears contrary to the overall purpose of the Medicaid statute,” Chhabria found

The states’ practices, he wrote, “improv(e) conditions for home care workers, which in turn improves the quality of care those workers provide to Medicaid patients themselves.”

For nearly 30 years, California has allowed participants in the In-Home Supportive Services Medicaid program to unionize, which Becerra, a Democrat, said has meant workers are better trained and have less turnover.

Though much of their cost is reimbursed by the federal government, unions representing the workers negotiate wages and benefits directly with the state in California and elsewhere.