For the first time, in-home care workers who assist people with disabilities will soon be entitled to federal minimum wage and overtime protections.

The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it is approving a new rule ensuring that most home care workers are paid at least minimum wage.

The move updates a law dating back to 1974, which treats those who provide in-home assistance as “companions” — much like baby sitters — and does not grant such workers the same rights as other types of employees.

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“For almost 40 years, direct care workers have been denied basic employment rights,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. “A fair wage will further stabilize and professionalize this critical line of work, which of course will lead to better quality care.”

“This rule will present a win-win solution for both home care workers and the people for whom they are caring,” Perez said.

The change is estimated to affect nearly two million home care workers, an estimated 40 percent of whom currently rely on public assistance like Medicaid and food stamps because of the profession’s low pay.

The new rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register in early October, but won’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2015, officials said. Though rules are typically enacted within 60 days, they said the delay is intended to give states, families and other stakeholders time to adjust.

Once implemented, most home care workers must be paid minimum wage and compensated at time-and-a-half for working more than 40 hours per week. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour.

The rule applies to home care workers employed by agencies or other third-parties as well as those who perform medically-related services that require training. However, workers who are paid by an individual or their family to provide fellowship and protection — keeping a person company or spending time engaging in hobbies, for example — will not be granted the new protections.

Labor Department officials said the change is a step in the right direction by professionalizing and giving dignity to a group of workers who are increasingly in demand as the population ages. What’s more, they said 15 states already provide wage and overtime protections of their own to these workers.

Critics from some disability advocacy groups, however, have argued that the change, which was initially proposed in 2011, could compromise home-based care, especially for people with disabilities who use Medicaid dollars to pay family members to assist them.

“We’re very concerned that this will mess with the continuity of care,” said Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living. “Medicaid isn’t going to pay for overtime. That’s going to mean people will have to bring a stranger into their house.”

However, Henry Claypool of the American Association of People With Disabilities said the new requirements will help chip away at Medicaid’s “institutional bias” by giving in-home care workers the same protections already enjoyed by those employed in institutional settings to perform similar tasks.

“It’s really just a simple matter of fairness,” Claypool said.

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