The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry said it plans to use a $14 million federal grant to help individuals with disabilities who are earning beneath minimum wage and assist them in transitioning to more completive employment.
“Individuals with disabilities contribute their valuable skills, talents, time, energy and perspectives to Pennsylvania’s dynamic economy every day in professions and industries as diverse as our population,” said L& I Secretary Jennifer Berrier. “They deserve the same protections as all other workers, including the right to earn at least minimum wage for their work.”
Pennsylvania is one of 14 states to receive grant awards from the federal Department of Education for the Subminimum Wage to Competitive Integrated Employment (SWTCIE) demonstration project.
Pennsylvania will use the funding to develop a five-year plan to support workers with disabilities including more than 5,400 people who currently work in “sheltered workshops,” most of whom have intellectual disabilities or autism.
Sheltered workshops generally involve an organization that employs people with disabilities separately from others, usually with lower pay if the disability impairs an individual’s ability to do the job.
The practice of paying individuals with disabilities subminimum wage is legal under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, a federal law.
The idea was to give companies financial incentive to hire workers who have disabilities.
However, in September 2020, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called for an end to subminimum wages in a report, saying that the program has been “inconsistent with the civil rights protections to which people with disabilities are entitled.”
To date, several states have, or are in the process of, ending subminimum wage for people with disabilities or are in the process of phasing it out.
“There can be an end to the subminimum wage exception for individuals with disabilities, but it is incumbent on all of us to make that happen. Workplaces should examine their policies to see which ones are outdated or intentionally or unintentionally discriminating against individuals with disabilities,” said Acting Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Secretary Meg Snead. “Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities and autism are vital members of our society and of our workforces, and DHS is proud to support opportunities to help them find gainful competitive integrated employment. We are grateful to the federal government for this grant so we can continue this work.”l