March 2, 2013

Fact Sheet #39: The Employment of Workers with Disabilities at Special Minimum Wages

QUESTION 1 - What should employment look like for people with disabilities?

Alex works at a local pizza restaurant, currently one day a week due to other commitments. She hopes this will increase over time. This happened because of our community relationships, not due to a service provider training, a transition program or sheltered workshops. 

I believe we may have done some things right when prepping Alex for adulthood - and I many things wrong...just ask my other kids.

This is what I did right:

First, just like many moms, we have always tried to make sure Alex is seen and heard in our community. I try to make a point of frequenting our local businesses and introducing Alex whenever the opportunity arises. She is known all over the Valley. 

Secondly, Alex's IEP called for supports (if needed) to successfully participate in drama, sports and other extra-circulars so she would truly be a part of the High School. We asked for extra speech and balked at the goals that stated Alex would read so many words by such a time. Everything was about her future, a future that is POSSIBLE and POSITIVE for her. We did not prepare her for a transition program or sheltered workshops where she would be segregated from the community. We prepared her for the life she choose.

Note - Alex is 19, so her future dreams are still a work in progress (as our mine) Alex wants to go to college and we have just returned from a college interview in NJ - more about that later.

Just like all new employees Alex needed training when she started her job. It was handled on the job and I was not involved. Now when Alex goes to work she punches in, grabs her clip board with her daily schedule and gets to work.

This is where I need to step back and explain Alex is on SSI and it helps with her expenses. We still see a speech therapist, and she has doctor appointments, food expenses and we can charge her rent. It is very helpful for us with our current lack of income to be able to access these funds, but this means we had to "put" Alex in poverty. Alex has no assets and she can never have assets over $2,000. She can not make more than $1,500/month or she will lose her SSI. This does not sit right with me.

And this is what I did wrong:

When Alex first started working I asked the restaurant owner (who I was able to befriend) if he was willing to hire an intern with a disability. The owner quickly agreed, but unknown to me, he had no intention of hiring an intern he wanted to hire an employer. Alex received a monthly paycheck(above minimum wage) and taxes were not taken out.

I did not think too much about this until Jessie approached me with the tax forms and asked if I could help Alex fill them out. My immediate reaction was to hug her, my second reaction was to berate myself.

How could I be short changing my daughter's contribution to her job and our economy by not paying payroll taxes?.
How could I even think that the possibility of not being eligible for SSI (she is still a long way off) was a bad thing?
Who am I to even think Alex's job is not important enough to pay her share?

I will never make that mistake again.

Alex is paid a fair and competitive wage, received the training she needed to succeed at her job and pays taxes. Our goal is to get her off SSI at some point. Entitlements are only for those who need them. Alex will not.

And shouldn't that work for everyone?

QUESTION 2 - Did you know that BY LAW people with disabilities do not have to be paid minimum wage?

This is taken directly from United States Department of Labor website. 

Fact Sheet #39: The Employment of Workers with Disabilities at Special Minimum Wages
This fact sheet provides general information concerning the application of section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
Section 14(c) of the FLSA auzthorizes employers, after receiving a certificate from the Wage and Hour Division, to pay special minimum wages - wages less than the Federal minimum wage - to workers who have disabilities for the work being performed. The certificate also allows the payment of wages that are less than the prevailing wage to workers who have disabilities for the work being performed on contracts subject to the McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act (SCA) and the Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act (PCA).
A worker who has disabilities for the job being performed is one whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by a physical or mental disability, including those relating to age or injury. Disabilities which may affect productive capacity include blindness, mental illness, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, alcoholism and drug addiction. The following, taken by themselves, are not considered to be disabilities for purposes of paying special minimum wages: education disabilities, chronic unemployment, receipt of welfare benefits, nonattendance at school, juvenile delinquency, and correctional parole or probation.
Section 14(c) does not apply unless the disability actually impairs the worker's earning or productive capacity for the work being performed. The fact that a worker may have a disability is not in and of itself sufficient to warrant the payment of a special minimum wages.

QUESTION 3 - Should we support organizations that employ people with disabilities because they can pay them $1.00 or $2.00 an hour?
Goodwill Industries is one of the many organization that use this heinous sub-minimum wage provision to employ thousands of workers with disabilities. They defend this practice arguing that they employ thousands who otherwise might be without work. That makes absolutely no sense to me. Goodwill is an organization I will not support in any fashion.

I know a number of adults with disabilities who receive services through our Local Community Based Center Board. The funding for these services is provided by medicare waivers and the funds disbursed directly to this state appointed organization not the individual. The CCB in turn operates two "job training sites". One is a greenhouse, the other a weaving store. The goal is to train people with disabilities to work in the community.

I asked our CCB asked why their employees are paid $1.50/hour, the response had to do with the administrative costs of providing job coaching, running the organization and the mysterious overhead.The wage is determined by how much output the employee does per hour vs. an employee without a disability and a divisor establised to set the rate. Only a few people ever move out of these sub-minimum jobs to community based employment. That makes no sense to me. Alex is not and will never be on their one hundred plus long waiting list for services

I am not trying to condemn organizations that work their hardest to provide services and supports to people with disabilities. I believe there is a need for these organizations for SOME people, okay maybe a  ONLY a few. What I do believe it that people who receive funding must have the CHOICE to decide how their monies are spent. If a person choices to work in the community and needs supports, shouldn't the funding be used to pay for the on-site support....just an idea. That makes sense to me.

QUESTION 4 - What is wrong with that picture?

In my humble, yet vocal opinion, the following questions should always be addressed when hiring a person with a disability to the person (and their support circle if needed) and the filter should be - is that possible and positive?
  1. What are your skills and interests?
  2. What types of supports do you need to be successful?
  3. How can we turn this in to a successful position for you?
  4. When can you start?
  5. We will pay you ?? does that seem fair to you?
In the above cases these questions are not asked, assumptions are made on behave of the "clients"and the new employees is assigned a job at sub-minimum wage which her or she may not be suited for. A recipe for failure.

QUESTION 5 - What can we do? 

Please refer to Question 1.


  1. Right on Mama! Thanks once again for helping pave the way. Less than minimum wage is ludicrous. Whether here to the disabled or overseas in sweat shops but that's a whole other post. :) Thanks for the information.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. It is quite amazing to learn about all the laws that are supposed to be good - but practiced in such a negative way.

  2. I can't decide if I feel inspired... or horrible. This is not something I did with Beth. She does have job support, receives SSI and is paid less than minimum wage. Every child, regardless of ability, functions at different levels. The questions that should be asked when hiring a person with a disability would not work for Beth. She doesn't have the mental capability to understand them. Is this something that I had control over while she was growing up? Maybe. But I don't think so. I think Beth is living at a level that is right for her.

    However, I do agree with you that each person should be given these opportunities, regardless of their disability. Then adjustments made, if needed.

    1. Hi Cindy, I am so sorry if I implied that we do not always try our hardest to make a future for our kids that is positive and possible with what we have. Beth is 9 years older than Alex and we have opportunities you and Beth did not. We are lucky and the families with the really small children will be the ones who make this stand and demand more for their kids. We have all done what we can. Beth is a remarkable young lady and it is because of how she was raised and the opportunities you made for her. Thanks for reminding me of this - and shame on me for not remembering to say EVERYONE has their own future. Please accept my apologies,

  3. I did not know that about Goodwill. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. My daughter is only 15 months so future employment opportunities are a while away, but thanks for getting me starting to look at the community and what is available.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. Yes employment is really far away, enjoy your present!

  4. I was aware of the income and asset restrictions but I hadn't really thought about the wage issue before. Putting my 4 year old to work would break a whole bunch of labor laws though I'm trying to encourage her to use the vacuum more. Not arguing here, but curious & looking for a discussion - if you ran a business of some kind and had two applicants, one with & one without a cognitive disability, and you had to pay them the same, don't you think Joe Schmoe employer is going to take the easier route? Yes, *I* can argue the advantages, but I have a vested interest and doubt Joe would see it the same way. Given the low employment levels of those with disabilities, isn't the wage differential a public policy option to try to boost those numbers? To encourage employers to consider "non-traditional" employees? What about those who require more supports/"guidance" in a work environment than Alex? She seems quite independent but I don't know if every 19 yr old with Ds would be. Again, I can see the patent unfairness of it too, if the same job is performed, but I don't know how to balance both sides. Thoughts?

    1. Thanks for the great comment! Yes, I'd watch out for those labor laws for 4 year olds...but vacuuming - may be worth the risk :)

      Seriously though - I'd first like to say Alex has always received the supports she needs to succeed and this helped her learn independence. Often I hear "she is so high functioning" - to me this is BS - she has had opportunities - that kids even 10 years older than her did not.

      As far as employment - Alex can not and probably will never be able to compete for any job with a person without a disability. We dream that she finds a fulfilling job where she can shine....maybe work in a preschool or with animals. We just don't know yet. We have done a lot of futures planning through the PATH process and person centered planning.

      So we will work with Alex's "circle of support" to define the steps needed and the network enlisted to facilitate this for her. CAVEAT - she has applied to college - so this is on hold.

      Creating a job for a person with a disability is not traditional and it is not always easy either. There are some great employers who provide job training for people with disabilities (some of the grocery chains etc...) and are happy to hire people with disabilities as it is part of their corporate policy. They do not pay sub minimum wage.

      I know many young adults who have jobs, disabilities and a fair wage. It does not happen by itself - it can and should happen because of community relationships. It is the whole idea of asset based community development and using what we have in our communities to help create meaningful lived for EVERYONE in our communities.

      If Joe Schmoe is going to take the easier route - he is obviously not the right employer. As far as public policy..ugh...did they ever ask anyone with disabilities if they would like to work for sub-minimum wage?

      Thanks for bringing up these very important points.

  5. I had read some not so favorable stuff on Goodwill and I'm becoming more and more convinced that it is in fact a scam that operates, but only just, within a flawed system of labor laws.

    1. Thank you for writing. I am so suspicious of all organizations who support people with disabilities, yet have such high overheads their funding is used for salaries for staff.


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