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Plan To Regulate Subminimum Wage Sparks Debate


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A U.S. Senate proposal designed to set limits on people with disabilities working for less than minimum wage is proving contentious ahead of a hearing slated for next month.

The proposal is part of a planned reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act. Though the bill has not yet been publicly introduced, a draft copy circulated to disability advocates who lobby on Capitol Hill is bringing about significant debate.

At issue is a section of the bill that would establish standards about who could be eligible to work for what’s known as subminimum wage, or earnings less than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.

Under the draft proposal, individuals with disabilities could work for subminimum wage if they meet certain age-related requirements and if they do so while receiving job training designed to prepare them for competitive employment.

What’s more, workers are not supposed to remain in subminimum wage situations for longer than six months unless they wish to, under the terms of the proposal.

Critics argue that the provision would do little more than offer sheltered employment providers a checklist to meet in order to deem people with disabilities eligible for subminimum wage jobs. They say this could work to increase the number of people with disabilities employed in low paying environments.

On Monday, the National Federation of the Blind ran an advertisement in The Washington Post opposing the bill.

“Unequal pay for equal work on the basis of disability is unfair, discriminatory and immoral,” reads the ad, which indicates that those working for subminimum wage are being “exploited.”

Meanwhile, materials distributed by TASH and the National Down Syndrome Society charge that the subminimum wage proposal “creates several loopholes that may put more youth at risk of being placed in sheltered workshops and earning below the minimum wage.”

Moreover, the groups say that the draft legislation lacks safeguards to ensure that vocational rehabilitation providers provide minimum levels of supported employment services.

Not everyone is opposing the subminimum wage provision, however. Julie Ward, a member of the public policy staff at The Arc, calls the current proposal “a step forward” because it creates guidelines for a system that currently has little oversight.

“It does create some system to make it more difficult to be referred to center-based services,” Ward said. “We know that people are being sent in this direction and there are no protections. This provides protections.”

Already, a hearing to consider the bill has been postponed at least twice, in part due to continuing discussions about the legislation.

Currently, the Workforce Investment Act is scheduled to be discussed at an Aug. 3 meeting of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

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Comments (5 Responses)

  1. waykul says:

    This is just what people with disabilities need…another bureaucracy determining where and how people should work. If this country would focus on job creation rather than dictating the choices that people should make everyone would be better off. In Illinois, the Governor just ended supported employment services. So add this up….no centered based services offering people who want to work a chance to earn, a state that has eliminated supported employment, and a federal government that is intent on telling people how to live their lives rather than helping to create real paid work opportunities. Will people with disabilities lives really be improved if subminimum wages are discontinued, too?

  2. CharlieB74 says:

    I have to laugh at Civic Rights Advocates, especially those who present charges againat US companies making products overseas and paying the workers there barely a dollar an hour, if this. But they are very quiet when it comes to the sweatshops here in the United States paying the disabled less than minimum wage. Why is this, because they are often developmentally disabled individuals working here? Advocates worried about other country wages should concentrate at home first – set an example!

  3. Catbird says:

    Waykul it’s nice that you have a choice about where you work and that is the point isn’t it? People with disabilities aren’t given choices. Being herded into a segregated setting that accepts money from a company who hires a workshop to do a job isn’t a choice especially when there are no other options. I love the scam that these sheltered workshops foist on people with disabilities. Big workshops take the money from a business, collect donations from the unsuspecting public, sells those at !00% profit, picks up a few more bucks from the government and pays clients a pittance. If we did that to blacks it would be slavery. If we did it to Swedes it would be indentured servitude. But if we do it to the most vulnerable among us at a huge profit then that is just fine. Did you read about Henry’s Turkey Farm. Look it up and educate yourself. The Governor in Illinois did not end Supported Employment. This is a service supported by the Rehabilitation Act and funded by the Federal Government through your State vocational rehabilitation program. I’m betting that the Governor ended funding for workshop placements as we did in our state years ago. Oh, Charlie B74 it is CIVIL rights advocates not civic. You may remember Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez. As long as you both continue to earn your living of off the seat of people who can’t help themselves to move on to something better, you know it’s a freedom we typical folks have, then ther is no choice for people with disabilities trapped in your sweat shops,

  4. msamericanpatriot says:

    @ catbird Wasn’t that turkey farm’s employees housed in sub standard housing on top of the illegal work environment.

  5. jj says:

    @ catbird It is obvious that you have never visited a workshop or had direct experIence with people that have sever disabilities. I work for an non profit providing supported employment services. I help to move clients out of our workshop into community employment. Everyone in the work shop have made the Choice to be there, they are not recruited or forced to do anything. They have decided that they do not want to be at home, they want to work even if they are only able to accomplish 3% what an average person may do. When I walk into our workshop I hear laughter, and words of encouragement, I see smiles, we are a family. It is not about the money, most workshops do not make a profit on the products they make. It is about providing a service, giving people the opportunity to feel good about themselves, interact socially, and learn/retain skills. Some people welcome the idea of being able to leave their homes and go somewhere safe where they are not pointed at or made fun of, where they are applauded for the work they can do instead of told they need to do better. Most clients in a sheltered workshop will never be able to work in the community, most employers will not consider anyone who works under a 50% attainment rating, most people in a workshop are under 50%. The non profit I work for actively moves people that have increased their skills out of the workshop into community employment. We refer clients to other agencies such as Vocational Rehabilitation.We constantly reevaluate clients to increase their pay and hold meetings to make sure the person feels valued and address any concerns. We have many different projects and levels of work so people have choices and enjoy the work.
    Sheltered work is not about money it is about choice. It gives people with sever disabilities one more option. I work in supported employment and find it to be a great option but I also understand that sheltered work has a place and is a valuable option to many. People with sever disabilities rarely get to make decisions on their own, do not take away another choice because you do not fully understand. There are always bad examples(as in everything) such as the turkey farm but that is not the norm. My agency was created by someone who has a loved one with a disability, most non-profits are created for a cause not to generate a profit. We are here to help.

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