House Passes Bill to End Subminimum Wage for People With Disabilities, Raise Minimum Wage to $15

 Fate of Disabled Workers in Hands of Senate Republicans

The House of Representatives voted 231-199 on Thursday passing the Raise the Wage Act to bump the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour incrementally over six years. The bill would also increase the subminimum wage for employees with disabilities, tipped employees and teenagers and until they all equal the general minimum wage.

Since the 1930s, employers were allowed to pay employees with disabilities less than minimum wage, if they obtained 14(c) certificates. The Labor Department will no longer be allowed to issue new 14(c) certificates and by 2025 all current 14(c) certificates would be deemed invalid.

“We’re thrilled by the inclusion of phasing out 14(c) in the bill. Everyone deserves a fair wage for their work,” said Julia Bascom, executive director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network told Disability Scoop. “Disability rights are workers’ rights, and it’s encouraging to see that recognized in this bill.”

The future of the Raise the Wage Act remains precautious as it awaits its fate in the Republican-led Senate.

Political insiders compared the chances of this bill surviving the Senate to them voting for impeachment. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will not bring the bill to a vote. Fear not, supporters of getting rid of subminimum are confident in another bill that is in the pipelines and set to be introduced later this summer.

The Transformation of Competitive Employment Act will also phase out subminimum wage. However, to be business-friendly, the bill will also make grants available for businesses to ease the transition from paying a subminimum wage to being forced to pay people with disabilities the current $7.50 minimum wage.

Outside the beltway, states have already set the wheel in motion to discontinue paying people with disabilities less than the minimum wage. New Hampshire started this trend in 2015, which led fellow progressive state Maryland to follow in 2016.

This year, the city of Reno and the state of Washington joined the fun by passing laws that require states and city agencies to pay employees with disabilities minimum wage. Not all families want subminimum wage to go away.  For a lot of employees who have developmental delays, positions that pay subminimum wage might be their only opportunity at holding a job and living a full and productive life.

However, most advocates agree that it is time to do away with subminimum wage.

“We hope that the passage of the Raise the Wage Act by the House will give some momentum to the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, which not only would phase out subminimum wages but, equally as important, would provide funding to help states and providers increase capacity for competitive integrated employment,” said Alison Barkoff, director of advocacy at the Center for Public Representation.

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