Disability advocacy groups are calling on the federal government to stop issuing any new certificates authorizing employers to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage.

Under a law dating back to the 1930s, employers can obtain special certificates from the U.S. Department of Labor allowing them to pay workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. As a result, some individuals earn just pennies per hour.

In a letter to acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su this month, a dozen disability organizations say the time is now for a moratorium on the so-called Section 14(c) certificates. They cite a recent Government Accountability Office report showing that the number of workers with disabilities nationally earning subminimum wage dropped from 296,000 to 122,000 between 2010 and 2019 and they indicate that data since that time shows a continued slide.

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“These facts signify that this program is on the decline and, given that reality, we can find no compelling reason for DOL to continue to issue new certificates,” reads the letter from the National Down Syndrome Congress, the National Disability Rights Network, the Autism Society of America, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and others who are part of a coalition called the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination. “We believe the end of the 14(c) program is on the horizon and implementing a moratorium on new certificates is a concrete step DOL can take without the need for congressional action to further the goal of economic self-sufficiency as established by the (Americans with Disabilities Act) and prevent further harm to individuals with disabilities in the waning days of this program.”

There has been a push in recent years toward competitive integrated employment and away from paying what’s known as submimimum wage. A 2014 federal law imposed strict limits on the arrangement and the advocates note in their letter that 14 states have already passed legislation to ban the practice of paying those with disabilities less than minimum wage.

A bipartisan bill proposed in Congress called the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act would phase out subminimum wage across the country.

Edwin Nieves, a spokesperson for the Labor Department, indicated that the agency received the advocates’ letter and will respond, but declined to comment further.

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