Disability Rights Florida's Comments to the U.S. Department of Labor Regarding Subminimum Wage Exceptions
Friday, June 21, 2019
Below are the comments submitted today by Disability Rights Florida to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment regarding Section 14(c) subminimum wage exceptions to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act that have remained in place for more than eight decades. Disability Rights Florida continues to support congressional legislation and related recommendations to phase out and ultimately abolish these provisions, in favor of an expansion of supports and business models emphasizing competitive integrated employment opportunities. If you’d also like to weigh in on this discussion, the comment window is open through today (June 21st). We recognize that this format is not very accessible for many people; the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) has put together a 21-slide online tutorial that may be useful. If you are unable to contribute to the dialogue on the online platform, or if you have any issues or concerns about accessibility, the Department of Labor is accepting comments by email or phone. You can contact ePolicyWorks@dol.gov or contact the Office of Disability Employment at (202) 693-7880 for assistance.
Disability Rights Florida was founded in 1977 as the designated statewide Protection and Advocacy (P&A) system benefitting individuals with disabilities in the State of Florida through the provision of free-and-confidential legal and advocacy services. Our organization maintains funding and authority across nine separate federal grant programs to advance the quality of life, dignity, equality, self-determination, and freedom of choice of persons with disabilities through collaboration, education, advocacy, as well as legal and legislative strategies.
The federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA) established as a priority competitive integrated employment (CIE) where people with disabilities work in mainstream jobs alongside – and are paid comparable wages to – coworkers without disabilities. WIOA furthers the goal of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to advance the economic self-sufficiency of people with disabilities in the country.
However, despite the clear national prioritizing of CIE as a policy aim, nearly 230,000 people with disabilities are legally paid subminimum wages under Section 14(c) of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (passed more than eight decades ago in 1938) largely in settings where they are segregated from their nondisabled peers and broader society. For too long, this subminimum wage apparatus has structured a life of poverty and dependency on public support for a vast segment of the disability community, and in the process has reinforced outdated and discriminatory notions regarding the employment preferences and opportunities of people with disabilities.
Disability Rights Florida has long supported abolishing utilization of this subminimum wage designation; however, ending subminimum wage alone is not enough. Our nation needs to ensure that people with disabilities have sufficient opportunities to work at fair wages, alongside coworkers without disabilities. To make this a reality for all people with disabilities – including those with significant support needs – states need to focus on expanding capacity for providing CIE.
In 2016, Florida enacted legislation establishing the Employment First Act, the goal of which is to better integrate people with disabilities into the competitive workforce. Similarly, earlier this year Congress introduced the federal Transformation to Competitive Employment Act (S. 260; H.R. 873), legislation that our organization has supported since introduction. This act represents a thoughtful approach to ending the outdated and unfair payment of workers with disabilities who receive subminimum wages under Section 14(c) of FLSA – the legislation not only phases out this provision, but importantly includes funding to assist states and providers transform business models to support individuals with disabilities to transition to competitive integrated employment settings (tracking outcomes over the duration of the proposed six-year phase-out period).
Also in 2016, the Congressionally-established federal Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities (the Committee), an entity created within WIOA, submitted a report to Congress and the U.S. Secretary of Labor regarding the 14(c) subminimum wage designation. Notably, Congress specifically directed the membership and composition of the Committee to ensure that it represented the full diversity of perspectives and views on topics under consideration by the Committee. The Committee includes people with disabilities and their family members; providers (including both providers using 14(c) designations, as well as providers who do not); employers; researchers; and representatives from each federal agency involved in the employment of people with disabilities. To be included in the Committee’s report, each recommendation had to have the support of every member of the Committee.
Importantly, the Committee recommended that “Congress should amend 14(c) of FLSA to allow for a well-designed, multi-year phase-out of the Section 14(c) program that results in people with disabilities entering competitive integrated employment.” The Committee’s recommendations focused on pairing the elimination of Section 14(c) with expanding the capacity of CIE, including through funding and technical assistance to help providers transform their business models. The Committee also recommended improved data collection and an increased focus on employment outcomes.
Disability Rights Florida urges the United States Department of Labor to rely on the recommendations provided in this report – which were established through consensus from all stakeholders participating – in considering its recommended next steps. Moreover, our organization once again reiterates its continued support for passage of the federal Transformation to Competitive Employment Act.
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