By Debera Taylor, CEO of NW Works
On April 5, 2021, Representatives Bobby Scott of Virginia and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington introduced House Resolution 2373, the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act, to Congress. The bill would “assist employers providing employment under special certificates issued under section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 in transforming their business and program models to models that support individuals with disabilities through competitive integrated employment, to phase out the use of such special certificates, and for other purposes.” Media outlets and disability organizations around the country have picked up steam over the summer advocating for the bill.
But what does this actually mean in practice for organizations like NW Works? And more importantly, what does it mean for you and your loved ones?
Under the proposed legislation, the special certificates known as 14(c) that allow companies to pay workers with disabilities subminimum wages would be phased out. In their place, the government would allocate funding to states to support development and placement of adults with disabilities who were on the 14(c) certificates to move toward competitive, integrated employment — which is to say, community-based jobs that anyone could hold. As the bill is currently written, this change would not be an immediate one. States would establish a five-year timeline to phase out subminimum wage, while increasing the opportunities for people with disabilities in the community.
NW Works currently holds a 14(c) certificate and we have for a number of years. At the time when the legislation around 14(c) was first adopted, it was widely believed to give adults with disabilities an opportunity to be employed and protect them from discrimination. But what we know today is that adults with disabilities are better served when working in competitive and integrated employment opportunities. This is why regardless of our legislators decisions, NW Works has been working to transition away from subminimum wage since early 2020.
Our efforts to transition away from 14(c) don’t mean that our clients will lose work opportunities. For us, this transition period gives us an opportunity to negotiate our existing business contracts at a higher rate, to diversify our partnerships within the community, to encourage clients to explore Group and Individual Supported Employment, and to pursue self-employment opportunities within our building, while continuing to receive Day Support Services as appropriate. There are lots of exciting ways for us to use the end of 14(c) to build a better future for our clients. We also know there are barriers to transitioning away from 14(c), including fears about people with disabilities losing their benefits if they earn too much money. With that in mind, we are working to provide benefits counseling for clients to make sure they are protected as these changes take place. In addition, we are working to increase staffing to offer more job coaching options for clients. All these pieces are coming together to ensure we are providing the highest quality and most equitable services to our clients.
We are not waiting for the passage of H.R. 2373 to branch out and give clients the opportunities to succeed. We know that even if this bill should fail (as others before it have), subminimum wage is a relic of the past with a complicated history and it is time for all of us in the disability community to move forward. We do so enthusiastically and plan to be here for the next 50 years, supporting our clients as they reach their goals. We invite you to join us in building a more equitable future.