October 2, 2023
Facing rising pressure to stop allowing people with disabilities to work for less than minimum wage, federal officials say they plan to undertake a “comprehensive review” of the employment model.
The U.S. Department of Labor said it will take a broad look at what’s known as the Section 14(c) program. Under a law dating back to the 1930s, the program allows employers to receive special 14(c) certificates from the department permitting them to pay workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.
“We are launching a comprehensive review of the Section 14(c) program to re-examine its use and future viability,” Taryn M. Williams, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy, wrote in a blog post about the new effort which was first announced during a White House forum last week to mark the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act.
The Labor Department did not go into detail about what the review will entail, how long it will take or what might come of it. But, Williams said the agency wants to hear from individuals with disabilities and other stakeholders “about your experiences with the 14(c) program, and what changes are needed to expand equitable employment opportunities for people with disabilities.”
The review comes at the urging of disability advocates and other entities including the Government Accountability Office, the National Council on Disability, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Labor Department’s Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment who Williams said have asked the agency to “carefully review the 14(c) program and prioritize competitive integrated employment.”
In May, a dozen disability organizations called on the Labor Department to issue a moratorium on new Section 14(c) certificates. At the time, advocates noted that a 2014 federal law implemented strict limits on paying people with disabilities less than minimum wage.
Meanwhile, the groups pointed out that this type of employment is already on the decline. A GAO report earlier this year found that the number of workers with disabilities across the country earning subminimum wage dropped from 296,000 to 122,000 between 2010 and 2019. As of September, Labor Department data shows that number had dipped below 43,000.
Already, 16 states have passed legislation banning the practice, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Maria Town, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, said the time has come to move away with the Section (14(c) program and she urged people with disabilities to speak up during the Labor Department’s review.
“Section 14(c), subminimum wage and segregated employment are antiquated concepts,” Town said. “With training, support and time-tested strategies like customized employment, people with disabilities can competently engage in competitive, integrated employment without the need for Section 14(c) certificates.”