The good intentions of lawmakers – from Congress to capitals in states as diverse politically as Texas and Washington – have paved a road to workplace hell for many of this nation’s disabled workers, and they put Ray County’s disabled workers at risk.

Good intentions are found in these facts: Many disabled workers are paid much less than the minimum wage, less pay seems to violate their civil right to equal pay for equal work and providing the minimum wage could help move some of the disabled off the public payroll, making them more self-sufficient.

The U.S. House liked the fairness of equal pay so well that the majority voted to end the “subminimum wage” for disabled workers. Members passed the measure as part of the Raise the Wage Act, which would increase minimum pay for workers across the nation – the disabled included – to $15 per hour. Approval from the Senate and president are needed before the bill can become law.

Several states have decided not to wait for Washington, D.C., to act. Those states already pay the disabled the minimum wage. This may sound like wonderful news for the disabled. But the devil is not just in the details. He sits smirking in plain sight, in the form of all-too-real, nakedly hideous results for most disabled workers.

Equal pay rules take jobs from many disabled workers. Here is why: In workshops, the disabled work at their own pace, with supervisory help. They may be paid, for example, 10 percent or less of what “able” people are paid. The low pay rate recognizes the reality that an able worker may work 10 times or more faster than a disabled worker.

After Washington state required paying everyone minimum wage, private employers stopped using workshops. Instead, employers now hire only those people able to do $15 worth of work in one hour, rather than pay the disabled $150 to do the same amount of work in 10 hours. Predictably, Washington’s sheltered workshops closed.

What happened to all of those disabled workers who had a place to work, to earn a little money, to contribute to society, to socialize with friends? A parent there, Buz Humphrey, told The Richmond News they do what other jobless people do: sit at home and watch television. Employers do not call with job offers.

This failed social experiment could happen in Missouri, including at Ideal Industies Inc., Richmond.

Missourians should tell their lawmakers – from D.C. to Jefferson City – to reject the minimum wage for workshop workers. The idea sounds fair, but for most disabled workers and their families, minimum wage is a living hell.

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(1) comment


I live in Seattle, WA where the choice of special wages was eliminated. The people affected were not people working in sheltered workshops but in community integrated jobs and were earning over $11.00 an hour. Seattle has a $15.00 hour minimum wage. Those in Seattle directly affected all (except for the person who only worked 6 hours a week) had their hours cut 20-40% due to this elimination of choice. That meant that they all had less integrated time in the community.

King County (the county Seattle is located in) also stopped offering the choice of sheltered (pre-vocational) services. There were 152 people receiving this service for an average of 15 hours a week community engagement. We are told that Person-centered planning and choice are paramount in the services and supports for people with intellectual disabilities but there were no choices offered to these 152 people when they were told their choice was being eliminated.

We are told that quality of life is important and is a goal yet the Developmental Disabilities Administration has no assessment to understand quality of life or what the person thinks is meaningful to them. It's a guessing game that no one knows the answer to because no one is asked what they, themselves think or choose.

Back to the 152 people who all had an average of 15 hours a week of community engagement. 10 have passed away leaving 142 known people in this group. 35 have left the "Employment and Community Inclusion Service" for various reasons and are no longer tracked. Of the remaining 107 people (who had an average of 15 hours a week engagement). 45 have opted for

Community Inclusions for an average of 2.5 hours of engagement a week and 62 have opted into "Employment Services".

"Employment Services" defines employment at "gross wages greater than ZERO in the past 3 months" so any statistic saying that people are employed is extremely suspect given this deceptive definition of "employed"

But given this definition, King County Developmental Disabilities Administration states that 23 people of the 62 enrolled in "employment services" are employed. The average weekly hours worked (engaged) for these 23 people is 8.7 hours a week. The remaining 39 people in "employment services" have no job and no community engagement and no wage.

So, looking at the whole picture, we had 142 people engaged for an average of 15 hours a week (2280 hours) to 68 people engaged an average of 4.4 hours a week (302.55 hours) and the remaining 39 people in "Employment Services" with NO hours.

This is an 87% reduction in hours of engagement a week for this population - hardly community integration.

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