Minimum Wage Debate: Disproportionately Impacts Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

The Arc Maryland Says: It's time to address sub-minimum wage!
By: The Arc Maryland, Inc.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Feb. 5, 2014 - PRLog -- The state of Maryland is waging a debate on... well... wages. It is the position of The Arc Maryland that all individuals deserve a living wage.  There are two crucial groups we must explicitly consider: Direct Support Professionals and individuals with disabilities. Direct Support Professionals in the Developmental Disabilities field are paid through state funds -- through programs that are currently woefully underfunded which results in staff who are underpaid -- underpaid and underemployed -- often needing to work several jobs to make ends meet. These roles save lives, ensure valued participation in the community, provide employment supports, and more. These jobs require professional training as well as precise compliance with specific policies and procedures established by the State and Federal Government. In representing individuals with disabilities and their family members, we think these roles are priceless and we need to ensure that we do not have negative unintended consequences -- it cannot be that raising the minimum wage lowers the value of other workers. When the state raises the minimum wage it must also fund an increase the rates for wages of direct support staff.

We must also address individuals earning sub-minimum wage. Minimum wage workers make $7.25 an hour while, according to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on sub-minimum wage[ii], sub-minimum wage workers on average make a meager $2.50 an hour. This same report found that nearly 424,000 individuals (nationally) are earning a sub-minimum wage. According to the GAO report, sub-minimum wage is disproportionately used to pay people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) (74%). In the field of Developmental Disabilities, discourse about wages must include a discussion on sub-minimum wage.

According to the US Department of Labor, in Maryland, over 40 organizations[iii] have "14(c) certifications" that enable them to pay sub-minimum wage. Actual wages under 14(c) certificates in Maryland are as low as 6 cents an hour[iv]. Yes, there is no "bottom" to sub-minimum wage. At 6 cents an hour, you'd have to work 167 hours (or 2 months at 20h/week) to make ten bucks to see a movie.

Sub-minimum wage practices[v] have historic origins going back as far as the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) of 1933-1935[vi]. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938[vii] updated the practice.  In 1966 FSLA amendments established a statutory floor of 50% min wage except in sheltered workshops. In 1986 the "floor" was removed from statute to support "therapeutic employment" or "charitable" employment. As these programs expanded, they later became identified as "training grounds" for integrated and competitive employment. However, the same GAO report shows that less than 5% of the workers with disabilities in sub-minimum wage workgroups will transition into competitive integrated work.  The model actually costs more overall and produces less integration, less independence, and less skills development for the workers who are in these programs[viii]. Today, there are training programs with proven outcomes such as Project Search.

To be fair, the organizations who employ sub-minimum practices are doing so legally[ix] (although the Department of Justice is now evaluating its application.[x]) The lowest paid worker in Maryland makes only 6 cents an hour. Is that a wage? We need to take a holistic life approach including employment, life-long skills development, and community engagement. We need legislative intervention to move historic practices forward to current best practices.

The State should establish a workgroup to create a State Plan for a carefully constructed phase-out plan to end sub-minimum wage by 2017. The State should:

Empower a taskforce to create a phase out plan. The taskforce should be connected with the existing employment workgroups such as the Maryland Employment Consortium with Technical Assistance provided by the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI), University of Massachusetts, Boston[xi] and the Employment First[xii] Workgroup (led by DD Council and DOD[xiii], respectively).

Design the plan to include:

o   An accurate picture of current employment, under-employment, and sub-minimum wage statistics for the state and also identify measureable target goals.

o   Technical assistance, supports, and fiscal incentives to organizations currently using 14(c) employment programs to move to community-based and fairly compensated employment programs.

o   Model "employment first" policies for adoption by the 14(c) Organizations.

o   The planned movement of individuals into employment programs embracing promising and evidence-based practices available today. (Two such alternatives are "Employment First" and Project Search).

o   Ongoing plans for baseline and trend data collection, analysis, and interpretation for purposes of continual improvement. Progress should be transparent and visible -- reported in an employment dashboard.

Draft the Plan to address differences found in Maryland including urban, suburban, and rural settings as well as cultural and language differences found throughout the state of Maryland.

Impose a mandated moratorium for Transitioning Youth in Maryland entering 14(c) programs.

Assure the workgroup disproportionately includes individuals and families such as transitioning youth looking for employment, individuals with DD currently in sub-minimum wage jobs, and it should also include employers.

The Arc Maryland advocates for change through legislation, policy, and practice to protect the rights of persons with I/DD to just and favorable conditions of work, including equal opportunities and equal remuneration for work of equal value. It's time that legislators and the State of Maryland begin to address the issue of sub-minimum wage.

The Arc Maryland
Carol Fried, President
Dan Schmitt, Governmental Affairs Chair
Kate Fialkowski, Executive Director
Aaron Kaufman, Adult Systems Advocate
Richard Davis, Policy Partner Program Manager
[iv]Caroline Center Certificate Number 03-02786-S-036. Bubble stuffing wages (Average is .85/hr; Range is .06 to 5.08; List total is 25 individuals with 20 below .85/hr)

The Arc Maryland
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Tags:Minimum Wage, Subminimum Wage, Direct Support, Disabilities, Maryland
Location:Annapolis - Maryland - United States
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