Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda – thank you for the concern you have for our community members with disabilities. While I understand this has just passed into law, I believe there was some very critical information that was left out, not addressed and misrepresented by members of the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities .
The first issue is that these certificates are not “general purpose” to allow any employer to pay a person less than the minimum wage just because that person has a disability. They were for specific employers for specific employees for specific jobs. Generally, they are used for people with complex and often intellectual disabilities. It is a fact that those with intellectual disabilities, just by the definition of the disability itself, may not be as productive as a person with a different type of disability – such as autism. Autism is NOT an intellectual disability but it is a developmental disability. This issue is one that the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities has failed to acknowledge and understand.
The second thing is that for people working in these jobs, they tend to work 10 hours or less a week and most often have a job coach to assist them in their job. The job coach may be 1:1 or only check in occasionally – depending on the support needs of the disabled person. The funding for the job coach is typically paid for through the Developmental Disabilities Administration through the counties. Without a job coach, many of these people would not be able to get and maintain employment.
One example of this is the issue of my son. He does work in a supported integrated employment setting within Seattle. He does earn a bit more than the minimum wage and works 9 hours a week with a 1:1 job coach. The vocational vendor agency is paid $2700 per month to provide the job coach for his 9 hours of work a week. If for some reason a job coach is sick or on vacation and they cannot get a sub, my son is not able to go to work that day.
For people like my son, they are not working at these jobs for their sole income and they all tend to live in poverty. They most likely receive SSI which will be reduced from the $750.00 to something less based on their earned income. Due to the earned wages my son makes, his SSI is reduced to $532.00. He then needs to pay rent, utilities, food, household necessities, clothes, healthcare supplies not covered by insurance, and other necessities of daily life out of his SSI and earned wages.
People like my son (who needs to have 1:1 supervision during all waking hours) are generally linked with several agencies, family members, friends (natural supports) a healthcare team, community members and paid support staff to navigate daily life. It is a collaborative web that can work very well – until someone tweaks one part without working with the rest of the team and it can then all fall apart.
For instance, my son lives in supported living with 3 other disabled young adults. Luckily, their agency does provide a reliable van for them to use but they need to coordinate transportation based on the residents’ schedules. They are the ones who transport my son back and forth to work each morning since my son needs 1:1 handoff from his support staff to his job coach – Access bus is not an option – nor is any type of public transportation.
It’s extremely unfortunate that the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities did little research on this issue and how it impacts the lives of those who work in these jobs. I have asked repeatedly for the research and the Commission has refused to provide it – but continues to refer to this non-existent research. I did provide the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities with links to a report from the National Council on Disabilities which had clear outlines for a transition from sub-minimum wage to integrated employment and their timeline was from 2-10 years. Not a rapid, sudden elimination of certificates.
I also provided another very useful resource from the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation which had very useful discussions and resources on how to encourage and create integrated work for those with significant intellectual disabilities. Again, this looked at a period of transition and planning for funding to be stable and sustainable for the required job skill building and training of job coaches.
I do not believe that either of these extremely useful and national resources were even discussed at a commission meeting because their decision had been made and any information from a person who did not agree totally with the proposed agenda by the Commission. The Commission has stated many times that there was unanimous opinions regarding the elimination plan by disabled people and advocates denying the fact that there were many who had a different opinion.
Regarding other states who do not use certificates:
New Hampshire did not have any businesses using the certificates but updated their policies to officially end the practice if they were used. The minimum wage in New Hampshire just $7.25 an hour and disabled people can be paid less if part of an approved work training program.
According to the NH Developmental Services Employment Data Report – the average number of hours worked a week is 11 and the average weekly pay is $92.73. More than 50% of the jobs are 2-9 hours per week.
A case study of the transition from sheltered workshops to integrated employment of disabled people in Maine done by the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy and Management highlighted the fact that when people leave the sheltered workshop, many work fewer hours per week and make less money than if they remained in the sheltered workshop.
Alaska recently banned the subminimum wage. Robert Dinerstein, a law professor at American University and director of the schools’ Disability Rights Law Clinic believes that Alaska will be able to accomplish an integrated workforce by giving workers a job coach who goes to work with the person for the first month to help them “learn the ropes.” Evidently, this professor does not understand the fact that some people may need the 1:1 support to remain employed – it’s not a “learn the ropes” and then on their merry, independent way.
Maryland has a 4-year phase-out of “sheltered workshops” which they hope to have completed by 2020. The plan involves moving people from sheltered workshops to competitive integrated employment. Each individual making less than minimum wage will receive an individual plan for the phase-out.
According to the United States Department of Labor “Subminimum wages must be commensurate wage rates – based on the worker’s individual productivity, no matter how limited, in proportion to the wage and productivity of experienced workers who do not have disabilities performing essentially the same type, quality, and quantity of work in the geographic area from which the labor force of the community is drawn. ”
The documentary “Bottom Dollars” by Disability Rights Washington and Rooted in Rights states “If people are given the proper services and supports and proper assistive technology, the sky is the limit for many, many individuals.” This I believe to be true but there is a big IF and that included funding needs to provide supports and sustain them. Did the Commission for PwD look at these issues?
Please ask the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities about the research they have done and the transition plan they have developed for our citizens in Seattle.