Commission on Civil Rights calls for end to subminimum wage for disabled people


The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on Thursday called for an end to a program that allows employers to pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage.

The commission made the recommendation in a report Thursday on the Section 14(c) waiver program, which exempts employers of disabled workers from a section of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The commission said both the Labor Department and the Justice Department have failed to regulate the program and let it fall short of meeting the needs of disabled people.

Overall, the commission said, the program has been “inconsistent with the civil rights protections to which people with disabilities are entitled.”

The report called for Congress to phase out the program, noting that similar phaseouts have been implemented at the state level to keep disabled people from losing access to key services.

“The Commission today calls for the end of the Section 14(c) program, because it continues to limit people with disabilities from realizing their full potential,” ​said commission Chair Catherine E. Lhamon​. “In addition the program suffers from wildly insufficient federal oversight and civil rights review, and apparently routine noncompliance, begging the question why we as a nation continue its operation.”

“We are thrilled to see the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights calling for an end to the 14(c) waiver program. This program has existed for over 80 years to transition disabled people to competitive fair wage jobs, with less than a 5% success rate,” Rebecca Cokley, director of the Center for American Progress’ Disability Justice Initiative, told The Hill.

“We believe a gradual transition with supports for both providers and participants grounded in the values of informed choice and high expectations is the path forward. We also want to note that the engagement of the Commission is a critical recognition of equal pay for disabled employees as a civil rights issue,” Cokley added.

Julie Christensen, director of policy and advocacy for the Association of People Supporting EmploymentFirst, told The Hill that “there’s a couple of points the report pulls out that we’re really excited to see, the really clear discussion of civil rights implication especially considering current law.”

“The other piece that I love the report pulling out is recognizing that certain people with disabilities who are currently in 14(c) settings are not significantly different from people with disabilities who are currently working in the community,” Christensen said.

This inclusion, she said, helps dispel the “long-standing myth” that without the program, “people with disabilities will have nowhere to go and will have no way to contribute.”

Both the Democratic and Republican 2016 platforms called for an end to the practice of paying disabled people subminimum wage. Earlier this month, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden pledged to eliminate the practice if elected.

Tags Disability rights Joe Biden Minimum wage Minimum wage law

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