I just received a letter from the agency that DC “works” for. To paraphrase; there are new federal rules that will impose limits on people earning less than minimum wage. The clients that are already earning sub-minimum can continue to do so, but they will be required to receive “career counseling” annually. Basically, they will no longer be able to accept new clients at sub-minimum.
I know that there is cheering and celebration going on after reading the paragraph above but I ask that you take a minute to read another side to this issue, because there are two sides to this. If your child is not an adult and out of school, the reality of the “other side” for many may not be something you might be thinking about right now.
I agree that EVERYONE is entitled to be paid minimum wage, EVERYONE! The reality is that some of our children will never be able to work at Walmart, Target or hold a “regular” job. Should they earn minimum wage if they do not hold a regular job? Absolutely! Do I think my child deserves minimum wage? Absolutely again, but unfortunately the funding is not there to support it.
When DC was young and in school, I had no idea how any of this worked. I did not understand agencies or Group Supported Employment at all. I would have had the same knee-jerk reaction to him working at subminimum wage. I would have envisioned sweat shops and whatever other horrors that you might be envisioning right now.
My son works for a non profit agency – Group Supported Employment. He works in their greenhouse which is open to the public. He has staff supporting him all day, everyday. He earns less than minimum wage.
DC is 25 and will never be able to work without support – a good amount of support. The agency that provides his work program is funded by the state. Funding is cut each and every year – each and every year. We can all scream and yell that these programs need more funding, but the reality is that funding for programs for the disabled is cut every year. If his agency is made to pay their clients minimum wage, they could only afford to keep 6 of the 12 clients working in the greenhouse. Where would that leave my son and others like him? He has the right to feel productive. He has the right to do something meaningful with his time every day. Where would that leave him? Sitting home all day or in a day program (like a day care)? He loves his job. He likes to go to work every day. Basically what this letter is saying is that they will no longer be able to accept ANY client at subminimum, which in reality means they will not be able to accept ANY new clients at all – at least in their work programs. So where will all of the students leaving the school system go if they are not able to work at a regular job out in the community?
I do believe that agencies holding a below minimum certificate should be monitored closely, but to do away with them blindly is doing a disservice to those that are not able to hold a regular job.
This agency also supports and trains clients who are capable of going out and working in Walmart, etc. Those clients, after they are trained DO make minimum wage or more because they are paid directly by the company that hires them – while still getting support when needed and at times, transportation through the agency.
If your child is lucky enough to be able to work without support out in the community, that is great! If not, I hope that in the future these agencies are able to receive the funding and support that they need, because all of our children deserve that. Until then, please do not take away their opportunity to have a job like everyone else and benefit from the interaction with the public, while still having the support of staff to help them throughout their day.
I am in no way advocating for anyone to make less than minimum wage, I am saying that right now, this is the reality for my child. He is working like everyone else. He is in a place with staff, he is safe and he is being looked after.
For those of you that may be envisioning the “sweat shop” scenario; the “clients” attend the program for 6 hours per day. They do as much work as they are capable of doing. They are not forced to work. They are not doing hard labor or strapped to a chair to meet a quota. They are learning, they are socializing they are out in the community and making contact with the public. They are surrounded by and supported by agency staff. These “businesses” are created for the soul purpose of providing “employment” for their clients. They are not booming businesses and most of them are not profitable. Even though they are open to the public, they are providing a service to our kids, more than to the public (I can only speak of the agencies in our area, but I imagine that it is about the same in most agencies).
While the states continue to cut the funding of programs for people with disabilities, the Federal government in turn expects these already struggling agencies to now pay minimum wage. They are required to maintain a certain level and staff to client ratio, but when the funding disappears, the level of staff still must me maintained.
Think for a minute about where you think your child will be after he/she finishes school. Will he/she be able to go out and get a job and work without support? If the answer is no, or maybe not, then think about just what they will be doing instead. Will they stay home all day? Enter a day program/daycare? What do you think they would want to be doing? Would they like to say they have a job like everyone else around them?
As much as DC lives in the present and “what comes next” is not what is in his head most of the time, he does know that Mom is an adult and has a job. He knows that Doug has a job. He knows his friends have jobs. He knows that most adults have jobs. He knows that he is an adult. He likes that he goes to work. He likes that he has a job. But, unfortunately the government would rather see a large portion of this population sitting around at home or attending day/recreation programs than do something that might make them feel productive…. to have a job like everyone else.