A June 21, 2013 NBC news report states that companies like Goodwill Industries who hire disabled people are able to pay them less than minimum wage due to a federal law passed in 1938. The Fair Labor Standards Act. Section 14(c) allows employers to pay disabled workers less than minimum wage based on a handicapped person’s abilities. Goodwill Industries, a major employer of handicapped people, has been accused of paying as little as 22 cents an hour to its disabled employees.
The National Federation for The Blind is urging people to support passage of the Fair Wages for Workers With Disabilities Act of 2013 which would make the current pay practices illegal. Support for the Fair Wages for Workers Act has acquired momentum as CEOs of Goodwill have been exposed as making six figure salaries.
The idea of paying handicapped less than minimum wage is an abomination for most Americans. In a statement, Goodwill Industries defends the practice because it offers a chance for the more severely handicapped to obtain employment with accommodations. The money that is not spent on the wages is used to offset the cost of these accommodations, which include services such as therapy, assistive devices, rides to work, and supervision. Goodwill and its supporters fear that a required minimum wage law would cause companies to stop hiring the handicapped or even only hire the best handicapped person.
If Goodwill Pays Higher Wages To Disabled People Can Cause Them To Lose Medicaid And Other Benefits
A bigger fear for some who do not support the new act is loss of healthcare. In this country healthcare is a privilege – not a right. This needs to be taken into consideration as the minimum wage movement gains momentum. People with handicaps are eligible for a government income-based healthcare program called Medicaid. Information obtained at medicaid.gov shows that a single person qualifies for medicaid with an income of less than $11,490.00 annually. Therefore, if a single handicapped person obtains a full-time job at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 hourly, they will lose medicaid coverage. They will be left uninsured or under-insured through an employer.
The Affordable Care Act will raise the limit up to 133% of the federal poverty level which will be 15,281.70 annually in 2014. This is not guaranteed though, because Republicans have challenged the Affordable Care Act repeatedly and will continue to do so. Handicapped people are expensive to insure. Some disabilities, like Down Syndrome, leave a person uninsurable. With the current standards and government structures that are in place, minimum wage could potentially cause a handicapped person their healthcare, SNAP benefits, housing, and more.
Devil’s Advocate: Is Goodwill’s Practice Of Paying Disables People Less A Good Thing?
Americans strive everyday to protect those with disabilities and the current law supports that. One side of it is that handicapped people are provided an opportunity for work, and like many of the non-handicapped population, they are being paid based on abilities. It also provides a protection for the handicapped by giving employers financial assistance to aid those with more severe limitations to obtain and keep a job. According to a Goodwill Report, work centers that provide employment opportunities for handicapped people also provide services such as transportation, therapy and counseling.
Healthcare issues aside, the horrible thing is that the law is not needed at all — in 1938 or now. In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed the legislation to give those people who are under-served by society a fighting chance. Now in 2013, handicapped people are demanding equal pay for equal work. Goodwill says it needs to pay workers less than minimum wage to be able to provide support services for the handicapped. Other opponents of equal pay worry that employers who hire disabled people will stop doing so if they have to pay them minimum wage.
Goodwill and other industries like it are known for offering services and support to handicapped people. They claim to support equal opportunity for handicapped people by offering supportive services and that is a good thing. In an interesting twist the argument that Goodwill and other opposition give to pay handicapped people minimum wage is the exact argument for why handicapped people need protection.
The problem is the bill just doesn’t cover enough. Handicapped people need protection not only from Goodwill Industries and greedy CEO’s who do not want to pay them fair wages. They need protection from a society that refuses its citizens basic human needs such as food, shelter, and healthcare. They need protection from a societal system that treats them so poorly that their loved ones fear pushing for equal rights because they fear losing what little they have.
They need protection from America.