[Nfbnet-members-list] Let’s unlock the untapped potential among millions of disabled people

Danielsen, Chris 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 
University’s Access Program for students with 
intellectual disabilities, and now is a dedicated 
part-time employee at Primo’s Café 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 “sheltered workshops,” 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 — it’s two steps 
back for people with disabilities. It’s 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, it’s 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 Mississippi’s 3rd District.


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