NCD Letter to Senate HELP Committee Opposing Sec. 511's Inclusion in WIA Reauthorization

August 1, 2013

The Honorable Tom Harkin
Chairman
Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Lamar Alexander
Ranking Member
Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Alexander:

On behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent, nonpartisan federal agency charged with providing advice to Congress and the President on disability policy, I write to offer NCD’s views on Section 511 of the proposed Workforce Investment Act (WIA).

NCD has reviewed the proposed addition of Section 511 to the Rehabilitation Act and finds it incompatible with our recommendations to Congress on the subject to date and we oppose its inclusion in the WIA reauthorization. Although Section 511 may be motivated by a desire to limit placements in subminimum wage work to those serving as training for competitive employment, research well establishes the failure of such settings to prepare people with disabilities for work in competitive settings. Research indicates that only 5% of sheltered workshop “employees” transition into community-based jobs,[1] despite the intention[2] that Medicaid-funded pre-vocational services to sheltered workshops be a time-limited service to help individuals obtain competitive employment.

In August 2012, NCD issued a report on subminimum wage and supported employment and acknowledged the longstanding and often divisive debates that policymakers and advocates have had on the topic of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which permits Section 14(c) certificate holders to compensate persons with disabilities for their work at a rate less than the minimum wage. In the process of conducting the work and exploration that culminated in our report, we engaged in a series of site visits around the country to learn from people with disabilities and their families and support networks just how this and related policies are actually working in their lives.

Some of the key findings of our research included:

  • Sheltered workshops are ineffective at transitioning individuals with disabilities to integrated employment;
  • Individuals in supported employment who had previously been served in sheltered workshop settings do not show a higher rate of employment as compared to those who had gone straight to supported employment without ever being in a sheltered workshop. However, research indicates that those who had previously been in sheltered workshops had higher support costs and lower wages than comparable individuals who had never been in sheltered workshop settings;[3]
  • Only 5% of sheltered workshop “employees” transition into community-based jobs;[4] and
  • Research indicates that employees receiving supported employment services generate lower cumulative cost than employees receiving sheltered workshop services and that whereas the cost-trend of supported employees shifts downward over time, the opposite is the case for individuals receiving sheltered workshop services.[5]

On the basis of our major findings, the central theme of our report’s recommendations is that the Section 14(c) program should be phased-out gradually as a part of a broader systems change that enhances existing resources and creates new mechanisms for supporting individuals in obtaining integrated employment and other non-work services. The comprehensive system of supports we propose is designed to improve opportunities for persons with disabilities. NCD recommends a phase-out of the 14(c) program rather than immediate repeal because those who have been in the program for many years need time to transition to a supported employment environment. The comprehensive, systems change approach we proposed in our report includes formal requirements of mandatory information-sharing to workers, as well as informal systems of peer support and incentives to states and providers to expand supported employment services in integrated settings, as well as improved and expanded opportunities for higher education and postsecondary training for people with disabilities.

NCD believes that the Section 14(c) program is a policy relic from the 1930s, when discrimination was inevitable because service systems were based on a charity model, rather than empowerment and self-determination, and when societal low expectations for people with disabilities colored policymaking. NCD stands for the principle that no person with a disability should be discriminated against in an employment setting by being paid less than the minimum wage available to all other citizens.

As your recent Memorandum to HELP Committee Members and staff and stakeholders stated, “[a]s young people with disabilities prepare for life after school, it is critical they have the opportunities to experience internships, part-time employment, and summer work just like their peers without disabilities.” We agree. Accordingly, provisions within WIA must uniformly promote equality of opportunity for our investment into the existing and potential workforce, including people with disabilities. NCD believes that Section 511 is at odds with that mandate, inadvertently perpetuating a lower expectation for a particular population of people with disabilities for whom Section 511 makes clear that segregated, subminimum wage is still an acceptable public policy outcome.

Accordingly, we respectfully oppose the inclusion of Section 511 in the WIA reauthorization and offer instead our recommendation to its drafters that fresh consideration be given to the findings and recommendations of the NCD report on the topic. We applaud the goals stated in your Memorandum to “close the labor force participation gap and produce better outcomes in competitive integrated employment for a new generation of young adults with disabilities.” We stand ready to offer our support to the Committee in pursuing a systems change approach that would approach the topic more holistically, with an emphasis on its phase out and a corresponding investment in supported employment and associated services in line with promotion of the goals of the ADA and maintaining high expectations for all people with disabilities. Please do not hesitate to contact Anne Sommers, NCD’s Director of Legislative Affairs & Outreach Anne Sommers, at 202-272-0106 or asommers@ncd.gov for further assistance.

Respectfully,


Jeff Rosen
Chairperson

 



[1] General Accounting Office (GAO), September 2001, Special Minimum Wage Program, Centers Offer Employment and Support Services to Workers with Disabilities, But Labor Should Improve Oversight GAO-01-886, Page 4.

[2] Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Center for Medicaid, CHIP and Survey & Certification (CMCS Informational Bulletin), Updates to the Section 1915(c) Waiver Instructions and Technical Guide regarding Employment and Employment-Related Services, September 16, 2011, Page 2.

[3] Robert Evert Cimera Ph.D., Does Being in Sheltered Workshops Improve the Employment Outcomes of Supported Employees with Intellectual Disabilities? Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, Kent State University, (March, 2011), Pages 8, 9.

[4] General Accounting Office (GAO), September 2001, Special Minimum Wage Program, Centers Offer Employment and Support Services to Workers with Disabilities, But Labor Should Improve Oversight GAO-01-886, Page 4.

[5] Robert Evert Cimera, The cost-trends of supported employment versus sheltered employment, Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, Kent State University (2008), 15-20, Pages 18, 19.

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