New Push Underway To Eliminate Subminimum Wage
Government investigators say that a lack of resources is one of the main reasons people with disabilities continue to work for less than minimum wage. Now, some lawmakers want to change that.
A bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this month would phase out what’s known as subminimum wage over five years and provide the means to support people with disabilities in the transition to competitive, integrated employment.
The legislation introduced by Reps. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., seeks to do away with a federal provision dating back to 1938 that allows employers to obtain special 14(c) certificates from the Department of Labor authorizing them to pay people with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
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“More than 30 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, our nation’s preeminent wage and hour law still denies equal opportunity for far too many workers with disabilities. It is long past time for Congress to phase out the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities and expand access to fulfilling employment and economic self-sufficiency,” Scott said.
The measure known as the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act, H.R. 2373, would halt the issuance of any new 14(c) certificates immediately and require that employees working under existing certificates be paid at least minimum wage within five years. The legislation would also create grant programs to help 14(c) certificate holders transition to supporting workers with disabilities in competitive, integrated employment. And, the lawmakers said their proposal provides for the “inclusive wraparound services that some individuals with disabilities will need when subminimum wages are phased out.”
The bill introduction comes on the heels of a Government Accountability Office report detailing the barriers that people with disabilities face in moving away from subminimum wage work.
The report, which is based on a research review and interviews with experts and officials across five states, identifies 32 factors that “help or hinder” the transition from subminimum wage jobs to competitive, integrated employment.
Among the issues cited are family concerns about individuals maintaining their federal benefits, the level of resources to help 14(c) certificate holders provide services like job coaching to support competitive employment, state policies and local factors like the availability of transportation.
As of October 2020, 1,247 employers had obtained or applied for 14(c) certificates, according to GAO, and “little is known about the extent to which individuals have successfully transitioned” to competitive employment. The situation has been further muddied by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many worksites — including those paying subminimum wage — to close, investigators said in their findings.
In addition to the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act, there are a number of other legislative efforts in the works that would put an end to subminimum wage. Phasing out the practice is among the goals of the Raise the Wage Act, a bill chiefly aimed at increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. And, President Joe Biden is currently pushing an infrastructure package called the American Jobs Plan that also seeks to do away with subminimum wage.
Several states and cities from Maryland to Alaska have already moved to prohibit employers from paying people with disabilities less than minimum wage in recent years. However, many families continue to support the option of subminimum wage employment arguing that it offers purpose for those with more significant disabilities who may struggle in other work environments.