published in the Republican December 2020

A policy that allows people with developmental disabilities to be paid less than minimum wage in sheltered workshops has been under attack by advocates for being discriminatory.  The US Commission on Civil Rights wrote a report saying that the policy should be ended.

Some families say that sheltered workshops enable the disabled individual to gain a sense of self worth.  Advocates of abolishing subminimum wage say that it holds people with developmental disabilities back from achieving financial independence and advancing to traditional employment in the overall workforce.

The report found that “failures in regulation and oversight…have allowed and continue to allow the program to operate without satisfying its legislative goal to meet the needs of people with disabilities to receive supports necessary to become ready for employment in the competitive economy.”  Rie Kennedy-Lizotte, the director of employment policy for the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disability Services, said, “I have seen the issue raised more than once to eliminate subminimum wage, but it’s never gotten to this level of action.”

Several states have outlawed subminimum wage.  Some of the states are New Hampshire, Alaska and Maryland.  The cities of Seattle and Reno have also terminated subminimum wage.

In 2019, a bill labeled the Raise the Wage Act passed the House of Representatives but has not been deliberated on in the Senate.  Senator Patty Murray of Washington said, “For too long, some workers with disabilities have been relegated to subminimum wage jobs where they are segregatedfrom their peers and paid far too little.  As this report shows, this is a violation of their civil rights – and we need to act now to end it.”

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