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Legislators say disabled workers could be fired if sub-minimum wage is ended

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(The Center Square) – Illinois House Bill 793 would require adults with disabilities to receive minimum wage. State legislators and CCAR Industries, a non-profit who’s mission is to enhance the quality of life of East Central Illinois citizens with developmental disabilities, are against the bill.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said under federal law there’s a waiver for minimum wage because the productivity of someone with certain disabilities isn’t the same as someone who has full-cognitive abilities.

“It’s neat to see how happy these people are to get their paycheck. They made their contribution to society at the level they are able to contribute. Who wouldn’t in a perfect world want to do this [mandate at least minimum wage for disabled adults]? But the reality is, you’re going to put these people out of work,” said Rose.

Rose said that’s because companies would hire more productive employees for the minimum wage price. Sheltered workshops would cease to exist. Rose said the state can’t fund the increase in other wages impacting the disabled either.

“We didn’t even get through one half of this fiscal year before [Gov. J.B. Pritzker] tried to cut the wages to the developmental service providers,” said Rose. “These are the frontline workers, doing the meds, feeding and bathing. So, who really believes these guys when they say, ‘Oh, we’ll fund it.’ Really?”

The Illinois Department of Human Services made cuts to the amount of hours it covers for care of the developmentally disabled. Service providers across the state are dealing with an 8.7% reduction in hours covered by the state.

The money the state allocates to pay for those hours goes towards employee salaries, and without state funding, providers have to cover those costs, or reduce care hours.

HB793 would get rid of the federal waiver that allows companies to pay disabled adults sub-minimum wage. The bill is backed by Democrats. Recently, state Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, expressed disapproval for the bill.

“They are calling it the Dignity in Pay Act, and I am here to counter that narrative,” Stuart said in October. “The bill is not agreed, as Charlie [Meier] pointed out when 33 out of 35 providers are not in agreement, that is not agreed.”

Nicholas Boyle, an economic justice policy analyst with Access Living, said he doesn’t believe the narrative that companies will just get rid of disabled workers if they’re required to pay them minimum wage.

“It feels like they’re saying there’s only two options: ‘Sub-minimum wage or no job.’ It’s not true. The research has shown, nationwide, that we can phase this out. I was talking with a small town mayor in Alaska, which has phased it out. He was the lead sponsor on this bill and they found a lot of success with customized employment in their small town,” said Boyle. “Other places can do it, I don’t see why Illinois can’t.”

Rose said the reality is the federal law allows this waiver because the alternative is having disabled adults sit in front of a TV as companies will hire a college kid at minimum wage because their productivity is higher.

Sheltered workshops typically hire only people with disabilities to conduct piece work, or a single assembly task, while hiring non-disabled employees to supervise and assist workers with disabilities.

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