[Nfbnet-members-list] Lets unlock the untapped potential among millions of disabled people
CDanielsen at nfb.org
Tue Sep 12 19:10:03 UTC 2017
Let's unlock the untapped potential among millions of disabled people
By Representative Gregg Harper
The Hill September 11, 2017
It seems that the more time passes, the faster
time flies. It feels like just yesterday that my
wife, Sidney, and I were bringing home our
daughter, Maggie, from the hospital, and then a
few years later, our son, Livingston.
Through our time as parents, Sidney and I have
made it a priority to teach our children the
value of hard work, and we feel strongly that
time spent on hard work should be valued and
appreciated. It has been our privilege to watch
Livingston, now 28, learn that appreciation for
hard work and persevere despite being diagnosed
with an intellectual disability known as Fragile X Syndrome.
Through his hard work, Livingston became one of
the first graduates of Mississippi State
Universityâs Access Program for students with
intellectual disabilities, and now is a dedicated
part-time employee at Primoâs CafÃ© near our
home in Mississippi. Livingston is loved at work
for his positive attitude and appreciated for his commitment and enthusiasm.
There are many Americans across the country who
are dedicated contributors to the workforce
despite having a disabilities. Unfortunately,
under current law, these hard-working men and
women can be paid less than the lowest legal wage
because of their disabilities. This policy is
based on a Depression-era mentality embodying low
expectations for people with disabilities;
however, I know from personal experience that if
given the chance to contribute, many Americans
with disabilities want to and will help to provide for themselves.
That is why I am proud to have introduced the
Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful
Employment (TIME) Act earlier this year. This
bill would eliminate an antiquated provision of
the Fair Labor Standards Act that allows the
Department of Labor to issue special certificates
to employers so they can pay subminimum wages to
workers with disabilities. When this program was
created in 1938, it was an exercise in charity.
Today it is paternalistic and costly while
failing in its goal of improving economic freedom
and employment for Americans with disabilities.
The TIME Act will responsibly phase out and
repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards
Act without raising the minimum wage. The
original intent of this provision was to
incentivize businesses to hire veterans with
disabilities after World War I, but it has failed
to achieve this outcome. Rather than increasing
the number of workers with disabilities in
integrated, community-based jobs at competitive
wages, the exemption has stimulated an explosion
of nonprofit entities that receive government
money, preferential government contracts and even
charitable contributions. While they may have
good intentions, in reality their business models
hold Americans with disabilities back.
Nonprofit entities with special wage certificates
usually isolate people with disabilities in what
are known as âsheltered workshops,â where
they are hidden from the rest of society and
usually perform menial jobs that are not
available in the competitive economy. Proponents
of the sheltered workshop model often argue that
these programs offer workers with disabilities
the opportunity to learn valuable skills and move
on to more competitive and better-paying work.
However, research reveals that 95 percent of all
workers who start out in sheltered workshops
never leave. Additionally, people with
disabilities still experience extremely low
levels of employment and excessive dependency on
government assistance, meaning the program is failing in its purported goals.
Research shows that the sheltered workshop model
costs more, despite paying disabled workers less
than the minimum wage, but produces less than
investments in customized or supported employment
in integrated settings. Worse, people with
disabilities have to break bad habits they
learned in sheltered workshops. This means
subminimum wage employment is more than just a
step in the wrong direction itâs two steps
back for people with disabilities. Itâs time to abandon this broken system.
As a committed conservative, I believe firmly in
the rule of law and in the notion that we are all
equal in the eyes of the law. Section 14(c)
enshrines the idea that those with disabilities
are unequal under the law and dooms them to a
fate of menial and unfulfilling work for the rest
of their lives. The current policy also
guarantees that Americans with disabilities will
remain dependent on government assistance from
programs such as Supplemental Security Income and
the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
These programs are designed to provide for those
in extreme poverty; work is supposed to relieve
such poverty. Furthermore, taxpayers also have to
pay the costs incurred by the Department of Labor
to make sure that subminimum-wage employers are
complying with the complex rules that govern the special certificate program.
It has been my pleasure to represent the people
of the 3rd District of Mississippi since 2009 and
to advance conservative policies and values while
doing so. There is no more conservative value
than to insist that all people have the
opportunity to work hard, compete and succeed in
the marketplace on the same terms as everyone
else. The TIME Act would not only achieve this
objective; it would unlock currently untapped
human potential among the millions of disabled
people who want to work and compete for good
jobs, reduce their reliance on government
assistance, and shrink the size of the federal government.
This issue goes to the heart of what it means to
pursue personal and economic freedom and to
achieve the American dream. Section 14(c) stands
in the way of allowing many, just like
Livingston, to do that and therefore should be
responsibly phased out by passing the TIME Act.
With a national employment rate of just 35.2
percent for the disabled, itâs clear that the
current model is broken. Our disabled Americans
should have the opportunity to earn the same
wages as their colleagues. Now is the time to act.
Harper represents Mississippiâs 3rd District.
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