By Derek Graham
Anytime there is a change in administration at the federal level, a person naturally wonders what, if any, real change will happen in their life as a result. The answer to this question is hard to predict but before ever taking office, the Biden administration offered some insight based on the $1.9 trillion dollar stimulus package they introduced. There is a lot to like in the stimulus package for persons with developmental disabilities, but as with most things in Washington DC, it won't happen without some controversy.
The Good—Unlike previous rounds of stimulus payments, this round proposes to provide stimulus payments for adults with developmental disabilities who are considered dependents for tax purposes. This is a much-needed improvement.
The Bad—This stimulus bill omits funding for the severely strained home and community-based support service systems (in other words—no increase in Medicaid waiver funding).
The Controversial—The stimulus bill eliminates payment of sub-minimum wage to persons with developmental disabilities. Back in 1938, employers were given the authority to pay less than minimum wage to disabled workers. The intention was good—it was to help people with disabilities gain entry to the workforce. However, a loophole in the Fair Labor Standards Act allowed some employers to give particularly low wages.
"In recent years, there have been reports of an estimated 420,000 individuals with disabilities who have been paid an average of just $2.15 per hour."
- Sarah Kim The Truth Of Disability Employment That No One Talks About, Forbes
October 24, 2019
The intention within the Biden Administration is also good—they want people with developmental disabilities to be paid minimum wage just like anyone else would be.
The Department of Labor in the past has released statistics indicating that in excess of 80% of people receiving a sub-minimum wage are in sheltered workshops—supervised workspaces for adults with disabilities. In all likelihood, they would not be able to sustain a change of this significance. While there are many individuals attending sheltered workshops who enjoy their work, there are some that do not.
The controversy will inevitably be that proponents of sheltered workshops will feel picked on by this step and targeted unnecessarily. They will say this is helping the few who have community jobs at the expense of those who cannot find community jobs. Conversely, how can someone not be offended at the notion that an employer can hire two people who are the same age for the same job and get away with paying one of the two considerably less solely because he/she has a disability. Like every issue, there are two sides to this debate.
No matter what ends up happening with the stimulus bill and any of these highlighted issues, one constant remains, advocacy is still very important and very much in demand!