SEATTLE, Washington – Leaders at sheltered workshops in Missouri, including Richmond, are discussing what might happen if Congress requires them to pay disabled workers the minimum wage.

A father in Seattle, Washington, attorney Buz Humphrey, knows for a fact what will happen – workshops will close.

Humphrey knows because that is what happened in Seattle, where many disabled people lost employment at workshops. His son, Matt, 44, worked for about 22 years at a workshop, Northwest Center.

“He was paid on a piecework basis,” Humphrey said. “Matt would be timed in relationship to what a fully capable worker would do on a particular task and he’d be paid based upon his own productivity. So, it worked out to pennies an hour. … He was working maybe 25 hours a week. He was making maybe 25 bucks a month.”

The work paid little, but the amount seemed fair in terms of Matt’s ability, Humphrey said. Now, Matt has neither that income nor intangibles of greater value – “benefits.”

“He doesn’t have the social interaction, he doesn’t get out of the house as much, he doesn’t take whatever pride he must have experienced in cleaning TV remotes or packaging Christmas presents for various businesses, so I’ve got to think there’s been a diminution in the quality of his life, but I can’t swear to it,” Humphrey said.

Knowing how Matt feels is not easy, Humphrey said.

“I wish I knew,” he said. “I think he enjoyed the social interaction with the other people in the work community, but he’s not very verbal and he’s not very demonstrative or emotive in terms of his feelings.”

Humphrey said his son’s post-workshop experience may be better than what some other workers have gone through after losing their jobs. Unlike others, Matt has a live-in care-provider who cooks and watches him and a roommate, Humphrey said.

“I would say that, in some degree, his quality of life has maybe improved,” Humphrey said, but that may not be the norm. “I think, for a lot of people, it’s tough, because now their child or their ward is home watching TV with nothing to do, no outside activity, no social interaction. It can’t be good, for sure.”

Humphrey said roughly two dozen people lost their jobs at Northwest Center.

“There’s now many disabled individuals, such as Matt, who don’t have any opportunity, because the sheltered workshop is not there and that was the only realistic work environment that they had,” Humphrey said, “and there’s no getting around that.”

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