New Federal Project Aims To Help End Subminimum Wage

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Charlie McGrory, left, who has Down syndrome, and his brother Andy, who is also his job coach, bag groceries at Hy-Vee in Winona, Minn. in 2018. Charlie McGrory previously worked at a sheltered workshop, but transitioned to integrated employment as a result of a 2014 federal law that prioritizes helping people with disabilities find jobs in the community. (David Joles/Star Tribune/TNS)

Federal officials are making a new push to get people with disabilities working in competitive, integrated employment as opposed to subminimum wage jobs.

States can vie for a piece of a $167 million demonstration project that the Biden administration is calling “a step toward ending practices that have allowed some employers to pay less than the federal minimum wage to people with disabilities.”

The grant program known as the Subminimum Wage to Competitive Integrated Employment demonstration project will fund innovative approaches to help people who are working in or considering jobs paying less than minimum wage to secure employment alongside their typically developing peers where they are paid wages on par with other workers.

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The U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration, which is behind the new program, said it expects to award money to as many as 18 state vocational rehabilitation agencies and their partners to “help eliminate subminimum wage employment.”

The agency is looking for proposals featuring innovative models that address barriers to integrated employment, support individuals who are in such jobs, establish best practices and efforts that provide employers currently paying subminimum wage with new business models they can adopt.

Jobs are expected to be in “critical need areas” like home and community-based services, green jobs, the arts, transportation and other fields, officials said.

“Economic security should be available to all Americans,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “Providing individuals with disabilities with a high-quality education and the services that they need to thrive will result in real pay for real jobs, empowering them and leading to greater social and economic inclusion.”

In recent years, several states and cities have moved to phase out subminimum wage employment and some federal lawmakers have sought to do the same nationwide. However, the Department of Education notes that even with these changes, there is a need to expand access to competitive integrated employment.

“It’s completely unacceptable that some workers with disabilities are still paid subminimum wages simply because they have a disability,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who helped to secure funding for the demonstration project. “I’m glad the Department of Education is taking this really important step to help eliminate subminimum wages for workers with disabilities as we continue fighting to ban the practice outright. Workers with disabilities deserve to be paid fairly for their work — it’s as simple as that.”

States have until June 21 to apply for the demonstration project.



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