A group of lawmakers in Congress is fighting to end the minimum wage for people with disabilities, a policy that affects roughly 122,000 people throughout the territory.
The minimum wage for US workers rows from $7.25 to $15 an hour, and many activists are constantly fighting to raise that amount. However, some employers are currently able to pay people with disabilities well below state minimums, with many earning less than that. $3.50 an houraccording to a report by the US Government Accountability Office.
On February 27, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives reintroduced the Transformation in the Competitive Integrated Employment Actwhich will end this practice.
“Paying workers less than the minimum wage is unacceptable. Everyone deserves to be paid a fair wage, and Americans with disabilities are no exception,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who led the legislative effort. statement. “This common-sense, bipartisan bill will lift up people with disabilities by raising their wages and creating competitive jobs in workplaces that employ workers with and without disabilities.”
Under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers can apply for a certificate from the Department of Labor that would allow them to pay disabled workers below the minimum wage. The GAO reported that 1,567 employers did just that in 2019.
Minimum wages for workers with disabilities are determined by time scales administered by their employers every six months to compare their work performance and productivity with that of non-disabled workers.
“For the employees, there is a lot of stress. They’re tested every six months, and if they don’t perform at a certain level, their pay goes down,” explained Jewelyn Cosgrove, vice president of the Washington, DC disability district nonprofit Melwood.
Tawana Freeman, a 52-year-old disabled woman, started working at Melwood in 1996, when the nonprofit had a 14(c) certificate and paid minimum wage workers with disabilities. As a single mother of three at the time, she remembers feeling enormous pressure to perform well in the time trials every six months to avoid pay cuts.
“I was like, ‘No, I can’t fail.’ I have to prove myself, I have to make them know I’m worth it,” Freeman told HuffPost.
Freeman said her salary has been cut several times, forcing her to rely on family and friends to help pay her bills. She still works at Melwood, but no longer has to endure clockwork and minimum wages after the nonprofit voluntarily surrendered its Section 14(c) certificate in 2014 after realizing its detrimental effects on disabled workers.
“Oh, I feel great. I don’t need to ask anyone for money. I know what I’m getting … so I’m OK now,” Freeman said. “We feel normal, like we’re normal people working [who] you go to work and you get paid for our eight hours, and it’s great.”
The history of minimum wages
Melwood President and CEO Larysa Kautz; noted that for a long time, society viewed people with disabilities as uneducable and unemployable. People with disabilities, especially those with intellectual, cognitive, and developmental disabilities, were viewed as inferior because of how their disabilities presented themselves, and minimum wages were used as an incentive for employers to hire them.
“[Section 14(c) is] an antiquated law that was enacted in the 1930s because frankly, no one believed at the time that a person with a disability could do a ‘real job,’” Couch told HuffPost.
“It was well-intentioned. It was done because we as a society believed that no one would ever hire someone with a significant disability – or any disability, really, because it doesn’t have to be significant – unless there was an incentive for that employer to do so.” she continued.
Advocates of the minimum wage today believe it is the only option for people with disabilities and that without it, those workers will lose their source of income, Kautz said.
But the landscape has changed dramatically in the 21st century, with more job opportunities and alternatives available than in 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed.
The US has seen huge improvements in assistive technology and other tools that can help people with disabilities in the workplace in recent decades. And in 2014, the Workforce Innovation Opportunities Act ensured that Jobseekers — including people with disabilities — have access to employment, training and support services to help them succeed in the labor market.
“Allowing us to continue to rely on some of these old laws instead of moving forward and where we are right now does not serve people with disabilities well. It just gives another reason to discriminate and push it aside and not try to find solutions and break down barriers,” Couch said.
The fight to eliminate minimum wages
There have been efforts to eliminate the minimum wage for people with disabilities at the federal level. In July 2022The AbilityOne federal program, which is one of the largest sources of employment for people with disabilities; be eliminated the use of 14(c) minimum wage within the program.
But the Law on the conversion to competitive integrated employmentwhich was originally introduced in 2021, would have the broadest impact of any attempt to end the minimum wage.
Eliminating discriminatory practice will help people with disabilities gain financial independence and participate more in their communities as they transition into competitive employment and inclusive work environments.
The legislation currently has the bipartisan ssupport of Sens. Casey and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.); Despite the bipartisan coalition for this bill, Cosgrove said she is skeptical the legislation will pass in the current political environment.
And if it doesn’t pass, it will be up to individual states to repeal 14(c) certificates.
Some states have begun to move away from the 85-year-old law. According to Association of People Who Support Employment First13 states in the USA passed legislation to abolish minimum wages for disabled peopled persons, with pending legislation Virginia and other states.
The GAO also found that between 2010 and 2019, the number of employers authorized under Section 14(c) to pay minimum wages fell by half. With some states repealing 14(c) certificates amid this growing trend, Cosgrove believes the minimum wage policy will disappear in the next five years.
“I think that policy will go away, and I think at some point, the political calculus that it’s a problem to get rid of it will go away as well,” Cosgrove said.