A group protested outside Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) Louisville office on Tuesday. The protest was meant to raise awareness of a bill being considered by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions, which Paul sits on. The legislation was drafted by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). It will help protect youth with disabilities from sub-minimum wage employment and will help them into the competitive workforce, Harkin wrote in an email.
“But there is a provision in this re-authorization that would in effect say, well under certain circumstances you can put people in these minimum-wage jobs,” said Chris Danielsen with the National Federation of the Blind.
The U.S. government contracts with rehabilitation agencies that help to employ persons with disabilities, he said. The concern is that placing people with disabilities in low-wage positions was never sanctioned before and the legislation’s language will make it easier for rehabilitation agencies to refer them to these low-wage jobs, he said.
“You’re dealing with people who may very vulnerable. Not just blind people but people who have developmental disabilities,” said Danielsen.
Dennis Franklin was at the protests in Louisville. He and his wife are also members of the National Federation for the Blind of Greater Louisville. He says depending on a person’s disability, employers can already pay minimum wage or less.
“They hire handicap people and rate them as unproductive so that they can under their certificate pay them sub-minimum wages,” said Franklin.
Not all businesses and organizations do this, though. Several protestors said IC Solutions pays its disabled workers more than minimum wage.
But, Danielsen said the legislation will make it easier for rehabilitation agencies to refer people with disabilities to low-wage jobs, where before the purpose was to make them part of a competitive workforce.
“For me that increases the chances of people will stay dependent rather than be independent and stay on the social security rolls rather than having a quality affordable life,” said Marcellus Mayes, president of the Metro Disability Coalition.
Calls to Paul’s office were not returned. He previously questioned the need for the Americans with Disabilities Act.