Use all or part of the letter below to inform your lawmaker, disability agencies (such as ARC and AUSM), and others how important a full array of employment  choices are to you. Be sure to add personal information about how a full array of vocational options (see section in red), including center based work choices and/or commensurate special wages affect you, your family member, or your values as a community member who looks out for vulnerable adults.  Keep your letters as close to one page as possible and be sure you add your name and contact information, along with the names of the people you are representing.  

Dear Rep/Senator _____________,

Please repeal or amend legislation provisions from the Minnesota HF33/SF37 Health & Human Service budget bill (passed during the July, 2021 Special Session) that will establish and fund a task force having the predetermined goal of eliminating ability-based commensurate wages (often referred to as “subminimum wages”). This provision was passed without having determined the impacts of eliminating this vocational choice which has been an effective and desirable disability accommodation for thousands of Minnesotans who are not able to successfully work in a traditional competitive employment situation. The vast majority of  people who will be affected by the elimination of the choice to work for special wages, along with their legally appointed guardians and direct caregivers who understand the severity of their special needs, do not support this action. It is largely supported by mildly disabled adults and others who do not fully understand the serious implications.

This task force specifically lists people and  agencies who will support their predetermined cause, but deliberately omits representation from the people who will actually be affected by this change, along with the family members, agencies, advocacy groups, and employees who provide care for them.  Furthermore, the application for task force membership specifically requires that people on the task force agree to support elimination of special wages.  It seems grossly unfair to establish laws that directly exclude the people who will be most affected.

Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act is an intentional section of the law that was written to provide fair compensation, based on productivity, to employees who are not able to work at a competitive pace or average capacity. Like our constitution and many other good laws, it has stood the test of time. Wages for clients in supported work centers are calculated periodically by the percentage of work (units) completed against the average performance of non-disabled peers doing the same tasks. Some workers receive more than minimum wage, some less. The majority of people who work for special minimum wages have already qualified to receive disability support to cover most of their living expenses. They choose to work because it promotes dignity, self-esteem, and a sense of community purpose. It also provides some rewarding discretionary money to independently purchase personal items and help pay for inclusive activities in the community. Due to the severity of their disabilities, the vast majority of people who work for special wages would not be able to work at all if the 14(c) provision did not exist. A basic level of productivity and conduct is expected in the competitive workforce, which is not always possible for many individuals. 

The Employment First initiative toward “fully integrated, competitive employment” (CIE) for people with disabilities, has led to criticism of supported work centers and other settings that serve people who have disabilities. Negative connotations, describing work centers as being exploitative and “not part of the community” have been used to discredit the important services being provided. Use of these facilities is a CHOICE, not a mandate, and thousands of people who are unable to work in unsupported environments have chosen this option for a variety of reasons. Elimination of 14c will result in closure of these facilities, forcing mass unemployment (not counted) and increased burden on aging parents and caregivers. It will not increase employment options for those who are already capable of competitive work. At a time when we should be expanding supported employment options, it makes no sense to eliminate options that work for many people. This action will affect my family/loved one by  (describe the effect on your family member here).

Segregation is defined as the forcible separation of a group from the whole. No one is ever forced to work under 14c but choose to do so because they love being with their peer group with trained support staff in a welcoming and developmentally appropriate environment. Supported work centers also provide job coaches and help locate competitive employment in the community for those who are able. Unfortunately, appropriate jobs are often not available, especially in small, rural communities.

The repercussions and inevitable displacement of thousands of disabled people from their supported employment agencies that will result from elimination of special wages has not been fully studied. It has not been determined that this action will benefit ANYONE. It would seem more reasonable to have a task force examine the possible outcomes first, before assuming special wages (along with employment for disabled adults who can’t work competitively) should be eliminated. 

Please urge your constituents to repeal or amend the HF33/SF37 (2021 Special Session) bill to include representation for people who depend on special wages and/or supported vocational centers for employment and focus the task force on whether elimination of special “subminimum” wages would be beneficial for anyone.