NOVEMBER 9, 2023

ALBANY, NY: The Mental Health Empowerment Project, Inc (MHEP). stands in solidarity with the organizations urging the U.S. Department of Labor to cease the practice of paying workers with disabilities subminimum wage.

In response to recent developments, including MHEP’s statement calling on the Governor to eliminate subminimum wage in October, it is evident that the subminimum wage disproportionately affects disabled individuals. This outdated practice, sanctioned under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, perpetuates discrimination and hinders the progress toward equal rights for the Disability Community.

New research indicates that Disabled workers employed under 14(c) certificates earn less than $3.50 per hour, less than half of the federal minimum wage. Additionally, the use of Section 14(c) often results in the segregation of Disabled people into sheltered workshops, undermining the principles of integrated employment and community inclusion.

“As the country works to ‘build back better’ in the midst of a deadly pandemic, it is critical that the US Department of Labor dismantle structural barriers that prevent the upward mobility of Disabled workers caught in 14 (c) programs. The Department of Labor can support the economic security of these Disabled workers and affirm their worth by eliminating all 14(c) certificates within two years,” said Zach Garafalo, Director of Advocacy at MHEP. “This will allow transition among service providers and people with disabilities to alternative service models prioritizing competitive integrated employment.”

Furthermore, MHEP acknowledges the progress made by states like Colorado, which phased out subminimum wage for workers with disabilities ahead of schedule, demonstrating that transitioning to competitive, integrated employment is not only possible but essential for fostering inclusivity.

As an organization dedicated to promoting mental health recovery, empowerment and advocacy, the Mental Health Empowerment Project, Inc. recognizes the interconnectedness of mental health and overall well-being. Discriminatory practices, such as subminimum wage, directly impact the mental health and dignity of individuals with disabilities.