The 2018 election ushered in a renewed interest in increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, as new members of Congress begin the work of delivering on their campaign promises. This includes a hearing the House Education and Labor Committee held on February 7 to discuss rising the minimum wage to $15 per hour (it is currently $7.25). This hearing, which was over six hours long, signals that the minimum wage is an important issue for the new Democratic majority in Congress. The Raise the Wage Act legislation has also been introduced on this topic. ANCOR originally noted this hearing because of interest the potential effect of changes to the minimum wage 1) on the direct support workforce crisis and 2) funding constraints within the state-federal Medicaid partnership. However, the hearing also included discussion of 14(c) certificates, a provision of the Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA) which allows employers to pay people with disabilities a wage below the federal minimum wage. Raise the Wage Act included a provision to phase out the 14(c) program. It must be noted that while the issue of 14(c) certificates has often overlapped with that of sheltered workshops, 14(c) certificates are solely permissions to pay less than the minimum wage and do not pertain to the nature of the workplace.
Starting at the 6 hour, 24 minute mark in this video, U.S. Representative Joseph Morelle (D, NY-25) questioned one of the witnesses on how the legal framework has changed regarding people with disabilities, including civil rights protections, and how this could play into phasing out 14(c) programs. The witness, Ms. Vanita Gupta of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and former head of the U.S. Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice replied by describing the community integration mandate of the Olmstead Supreme Court decision, which is based on rights instilled by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). U.S. Representative Morelle then asked how receiving minimum wage would assist people with disabilities, leading Ms. Gupta to discuss the dignity of work and offering equal opportunities in the mainstream economy.
Congressman Morelle is a freshman member of Congress who took over the last two months of U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter’s term after her passage and also won his first own term this November. He was previously a state legislator.