VIEWPOINT: Adults with disabilities are valuable to our workforce
In a recent letter to acting Federal Secretary of Labor Julie Su, many national disability organizations called for an end to the practice of allowing businesses to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage.
Based on the age-old assumption that people with disabilities have lower productivity, therefore justifying lower pay, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, enacted in 1938, allows the practice.
Fortunately, here in Delaware, the General Assembly passed the Jaime Wolfe Employment Act in 2021. Thanks to that legislation, the authorization to pay individuals with disabilities less than the minimum wage will be phased out by July 1, 2023.
For us at the Food Bank of Delaware, we are committed to hiring people with disabilities for our own staffing needs. Despite Delaware’s minimum wage currently sitting at $11.75 an hour, no one at the Food Bank, including those with special needs, earns less than $18. We remain committed to paying not only a minimum wage, but to providing a living wage, currently calculated at $17.74 in Delaware.
Hiring people with disabilities and paying a living wage is not only good business, but they are also ways we can play a role as an employer in ending food insecurity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, adults with disabilities experienced food insecurity at more than twice the rate of adults who were not disabled in 2020.
The employment rate of people with disabilities is much lower than that of those without disabilities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in September 2021 the unemployment rate of people with disabilities ages 16-64 was 9.7% compared to 4.75% among those without disabilities. This low employment rate exists despite many people with disabilities having the ability and desire to gain employment. Many people with disabilities leave school without community based vocational training that would prepare them for integrated competitive employment.
We are changing this narrative by providing training opportunities for adults with disabilities through The Kitchen School, a 12-week food service and hospitality training program. We are also developing a new Specialized Training Employment Program (S.T.E.P.).
Through hands-on experience and an integrated work environment, we will assist participants with enhancing job readiness and skill development to aid in acquiring competitive employment, either as permanent employees of the Food Bank or in the community.
To protect people with disabilities from losing federal means-tested benefits like SNAP, SSI and Medicaid, we are proud to partner with the Office of State Treasurer Colleen Davis to promote the use of DEPENDABLE, Delaware’s ABLE program. Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts enable people with disabilities to save for current or future expenses without jeopardizing their benefits.
People with disabilities are highly valuable and meaningful contributors to the workforce. Their diverse skills and experiences bring a unique and valuable perspective to organizations. The Food Bank of Delaware is proud to lead the way in cultivating a workforce that fosters accessibility and inclusivity for all. It is our hope that the federal government will follow suit on restricting Section 14(c) certificates the way Delaware has.
Cathy Kanefsky is the president and CEO of the Food Bank of Delaware.