January 30, 2014
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
The Honorable Thomas Perez
Secretary of Labor
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20210
Dear Mr. President and Secretary Perez:
On behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency that advises Congress and the Administration regarding laws, policies, practices, and procedures that affect people with disabilities, I write in response to the 2014 State of the Union address and a subsequent White House call with community advocates regarding the impending Executive Order to raise the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors. NCD applauds your commitment to reducing income inequality, and urges the steadfast inclusion of Americans with disabilities in these efforts.
We were disheartened to learn through a White House call yesterday that the Administration does not have the intention of crafting the planned Executive Order in such a way as to apply the raised minimum wage to people with disabilities who are currently employed by federal contractors who pay them subminimum wages. Because the Executive Order will not raise the wages of these individuals outright, as a result, the Executive Order will only have a negligible, trickle-down effect on employees with disabilities employed by contractors who pay them subminimum wages, as wages paid under this program will simply be calculated in relation to the new minimum wage. This may mean that a worker receiving pennies an hour today may receive a dime as a result of the Executive Order. Surely we can do better than this.
As aptly stated in your address, Mr. President, “The best measure of opportunity is access to a good job.” Surely, a good job includes a fair wage. Twenty-four years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a fair wage must be available to everyone who works, including Americans with disabilities. However, that is far from reality for most people with disabilities living in America today.
People with disabilities are three times more likely to live in poverty, and only 18.7 percent of people with disabilities participate in the workforce, compared with 68.3 percent of people without disabilities. In addition, sadly, for many people with disabilities who are counted as participating in the workforce, even the current minimum wage eludes them because of antiquated laws and regulations that permit compensation that at times provides mere pennies an hour. Through an outdated, little-known provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act known as the Section 14(c) program, the federal government permits employers with Section 14(c) certificates to pay people with disabilities less than the prevailing minimum wage. This currently affects over a quarter of a million Americans with disabilities – a glaring example of the income inequality that we applaud your Administration for wanting to stamp out. For workers with disabilities, equal rights, let alone a living wage, is still a dream deferred.
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.
In our 2012 report, Subminimum Wage and Supported Employment, NCD recommended a gradual phase out of the 14(c) program and a concurrent shift of investment into supported employment. As America rightly works toward increasing the minimum wage, we must assure that people with disabilities have the opportunity to rise to the same heights as other Americans.
If the Administration agrees with this principle and wants to stamp out income inequality for all Americans, including Americans with disabilities, we urge you to reconsider what was shared on yesterday’s White House conference call and explicitly state in the Executive Order that the increase in minimum wage for employees of federal contractors applies to all employees of federal contractors, including the thousands of Americans with disabilities who are currently being paid less than the minimum wage under the Section 14(c) program. Additionally, we urge the Administration to publicly state its support for congressional action to phase out and eliminate the 14(c) program for all workers, just as it has publicly supported an increase in the federal minimum wage for workers without disabilities.
As affirmed in the State of the Union address, “if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty.” We agree. Unequivocally, this must apply to all Americans, including people with disabilities. If executive action is appropriate to raise the wages of Americans without disabilities, it should be appropriate to raise the wages of those with disabilities.
NCD looks forward to working with the Administration to ensure that all Americans, including people with disabilities, have the tools necessary to lift themselves out of poverty, including a fair and equitable wage. If we can be of service as you consider the language of your Executive Order or on related issues, please do not hesitate to call on us.
 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, Employment Situation: 2011(Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011).
 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6. Employment status of the civilian population by age, sex, and disability status, not seasonally adjusted (last modified January 10, 2014), available athttp://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t06.htm.
 National Council on Disability, Subminimum Wage and Supported Employment (2012), available at/publications/2012/August232012/.