More subminimum wage – can we just get real

EHB 1706 sits in the Senate Rules Committee.  As long as it’s in Rules committee there is still some hope that reality will set in that this bill not only short-sighted but harmful.

I am writing with some major concerns regarding issues with EHB 1706. While this bill may have started with good-intentions, it is extremely short sighted regarding the complexity and collaboration needed in any supports addressing the needs of our disabled population affected by significant intellectual and developmental disabilities. Contrary to what has been said in hearings, it is not common practice to pay disabled people less than minimum wage. It is not common practice to use special certificates for a commensurate wage.

Special certificates for a commensurate wage are not the same thing as “warehousing people in sheltered workshops”. Special certificates do allow a choice and alternative for those who may not be able to work independently in a competitive market or for those who enjoy the camaraderie of working with peers.

We no longer have sheltered workshops in our state but these certificates are very much desired by those who chose to work in group integrated employment in community settings. Person-centered planning and adherence to the Olmstead decision regarding choice are issues that would be violated if this alternative was removed from a smorgasbord of opportunities that people with significance disabilities may choose from. Again, the issue is choice. No one is forced to use these and they are not common practice – but for those who do choose to use them, this opportunity can be life saving. Why take this away?

Other concerns regarding the issues of supported employment in our state – if the support is considered only short-term until the employee is able to be independent or the employer builds in enough “natural supports” so that the employee does not need a job coach, this will lead to even more unemployment in this population. Unfortunately, I know this too well given issues with my son who works in supported employment with a 1:1 job coach. This is not something that he will “outgrow” but a support that he will need the rest of his life. Is he going to be the victim of this policy when it is decided that job supports are no longer needed because he’s had enough time to learn the job?

It is not common practice to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage. These special certificates are for specific employers, specific jobs, specific employees and for a specific, limited time. It is common practice to pay people with disabilities minimum wage or higher but their work hours are greatly reduced. For instance, my son works in supported employment in a competitive integrated job – he earns $16.58 an hour – a great wage for him. He only works 7.5 hours a week. This is also great for him because of his disability – working more hours a day would be disastrous for him.

While this bill seemed to have good intentions – it is extremely short sighted. There was a failure to even address the recent JLARC report which addresses how few hours disabled people work and less than 10% make a “living wage.” DDA intends that its services provide quality of life benefits for clients, such as choice, relationships, integration in the community, and competence., however there are no evaluations that are done to measure if this outcome is met.

We hear from an affiliate of the national Arc Agency that Washington ranks highest percentage of “employment and day services clients” enrolled in employment services. (87%) But – “Not all clients who receive employment services have a job” which is very clear when scouring the data reported by the county contracted providers ( https://www.statedata.info/washington-ddd/) When one of the affiliates testified that working under a certificate was something that was forced on them by “well meaning do-gooders”, it inhibits their growth as employees, chances of advancement and their ability to support themselves and live off of public assistance. This person is speaking from a totally different reality and perspective than that of the people who have chosen to work under a certificate or of a person, like my son, who while able to learn and function with appropriate supports, will never be independent, able to support himself or live off of public assistance. We need to face reality and this bill is not the way to do that.
Below are just a few bullet points from the JLARC report that need to be taken into consideration:

JLARC staff analyzed DDA data for the 6,975 clients enrolled in individual supported employment during fiscal year 2018.

• 675 clients (10%) earned more than the federal poverty level ($12,140 per year for a single person).
• Earnings vary by support needs. 2 Clients with lower support needs tend to earn more wages.
• 44% of clients with high support needs were unemployed. This is double the rate for clients with medium support needs and five times the rate for clients with low support needs.
• Clients with high support needs who were employed worked 21 hours per month on average. This is less than half the average hours for clients with medium support needs, and a quarter of the hours for the clients with low support needs.
• 99% of clients with high support needs earned less than the federal poverty level.

Addressing this issue only from the Department of Labor viewpoint totally misses the collaboration needed to provide appropriate supports for our disabled community members and I find this approach extremely harmful to those people it was supposed to help. The misinformation used and biased opinions heard regarding choices and alternatives for those with significant disabilities has been ridiculed and dismissed as “living in fear”. I and others who live this life challenge you to listen to those who are actually affected by these policies – not necessarily the people you are hearing from. We need an opportunity to be heard too but when we are censored and blocked from the affiliate agency, it appears to legislators that we do not exist.

Our hope is that this will change. We are gathering people who have first hand knowledge of the issues and how these policies are actually hurting, rather than helping those we live with, care for and love.
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2 comments on “More subminimum wage – can we just get real

  1. Terry Archer says:

    Recently an employment vendor here in our city did away with GSE employment, a number of those folks made the choice to move to our agency which continues to offer GSE employment for as long as we are able to do so. We do plan on a meeting here on Thursday night to explain the consequences if these bills pass.

    Liked by 1 person

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