From Subminimum Wages to Competitive Integrated Employment: What are the Barriers?

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A recent bipartisan bill seeks to end the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that allows employers to pay employees with disabilities subminimum wages. The legislation would:

  • Stop the Department of Labor from issuing new certificates that allow employers to pay people with disabilities less the federal minimum wage.
  • Require employers currently paying less than minimum wage to transition within 5 years to paying at least minimum wage.
  • Create grant programs to help employers transition to supporting workers with disabilities in competitive, integrated employment.

The bill, known as the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act, H.R. 2373, was introduced in the House of Representatives in April 2021. At present it’s being considered by the House Committee on Education and Labor.

Understanding the Barriers

Although many believe that the move to competitive, integrated employment would give people with disabilities access to fulfilling work and economic self-sufficiency, both employers and people with disabilities and their families have expressed resistance to the proposed change.

Understanding why could help vocational rehabilitation professionals better connect with job seekers and employers as they work to establish good relationships that result in quality jobs for people with disabilities. According to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), some of their concerns are:

  • Maintaining Disability-Related Benefits (Employee or Family)
    People and their families may fear that earning higher wages would make them ineligible for certain benefits.
  • Sufficient Funding for Competitive Integrated Employment Services (Employer)
    Employers may be discouraged from providing competitive, integrated employment-focused services, such as job coaching, when funding for these services is lower than for services provided in subminimum wage settings.
  • State Resources for Competitive Integrated Employment (Public Policy)
    Specialized training to subminimum wage employer staff may be key to helping people transition to competitive, integrated employment.
  • Available Transportation (Local Economy)
    One way to reduce transportation-related challenges could be for subminimum-wage employers to identify nearby job openings for potential competitive, integrated employment positions.

These findings are based on the GAO’s literature review and interviews with 17 disability experts and state officials. Their purpose was to identify what disability experts and state officials believe influence the transition from subminimum wage employment to competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities.

Learning More About the Push for Competitive Integrated Employment

Reducing or eliminating subminimum wages would have a profound impact on employment for people with disabilities. Check out these resources to learn more.

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