Tuesday, May 24, 2016

It’s just not fair, right?

As Waivermarket.com pursues more choice and transparency in the way services are allocated we always want to bring you our opinions about the state of the disability service industry.

Should individuals with disabilities be paid less than minimum wage?  As we look at this question, a couple of things should immediately enter your mind. 
Not to pull on your heart strings but this is just cut and dry, blatant discrimination.  It is unfair for someone to get paid less for the same work.  This article does not consider several other issues that make this a hard case to make. 

1.       Work, what constitutes work?  For years sheltered workshops have been slowly dismantled in favor of more home and community based services.  The idea of a workshop is more about getting people to be doing something, anything for a period of time.  These tasks may include shredding paper, stapling, filing, or other menial tasks.  In the past, agencies had individuals actually do a wide variety of tasks that were not jobs at all, just tasks to keep people busy.  In this article, one woman explains that taking this service form her daughter would leave her with nothing to do.  I believe we need these activities to keep people engaged, social and overall happy but we need to separate what we consider work from other activities.  When you combine these definitions (work and activities) you create a platform where it makes sense to compensate someone pennies on the dollar.  It also dismisses the people who have overcome any barrier between them and meaningful employment. 

In March 2011, a speech by Samuel R. Bagenstos, the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, cited the NDRN report in explicitly criticizing the entire concept underlying the sheltered workshop.[5]
“[W]hen individuals with disabilities spend years— indeed, decades—in congregate programs doing so-called jobs like these, yet do not learn any real vocational skills, we should not lightly conclude that it is the disability that is the problem. Rather, the programs’ failure to teach any significant, job-market-relevant skills leaves their clients stuck. As a recent review of the literature concludes, “[t]he ineffectiveness of sheltered workshops for helping individuals progress to competitive employment is well established.”[5]

2.       Equal Pay for Equal work.  As you read through the article what picture did you see in your mind.  The truth is most of the individuals in supported employment programs have the skills to be employed, they lack the opportunity.  When I had a supported employment program several business owners, that I wanted to partner with, would ask if they could pay less and if they could get tax breaks for hiring people with disabilities.  The issue should be whether or not they can do the work. 

While I know most people have good intentions, it is sad to think that, as an employer, I should be able to pay less to someone with a disability.  You are not doing someone a favor, you are filling in a position.  The fact that you have hired someone who is seen as non-hirable does not give you Karma credit to pay them less. 

3.       Working for a minimum wage or keeping your life saving benefits.    The third issue is even more interesting.  At the supported employment program I ran we hired a great young man to work in several aspects of our office.  This included, filing, cleaning, organizing and some other office type tasks.  We paid him $10 an hour and he quit his job at McDonald’s that paid him less and came to work with us.  He consistently told us how much he appreciated the respect we gave him.  Instead of many people with disabilities working as a group (talked about earlier in reason 1) he was working with and treated as a peer with all the staff. 

He ran into an issue with his benefits, mainly social security.  His funding source was in jeopardy if he made too much money ($10/hour for 15 hours a week does not constitute someone taking advantage of the system). So now people are stuck in a catch 22, receive respect for a job well done but don’t make too much money or you will be penalized in a major way (benefits, socials security, Medicaid, etc.)  Until we allow people to hold onto needed benefits and pursue a quality of life through hard work and independence we will never see a service industry built around a person’s potential.  

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