Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments through the 14(c) National Online Dialogue. The Disability Law Center ("DLC") is Utah's designated Protection & Advocacy ("P&A") Agency – part of a nationwide network of Protection and Advocacy Agencies that work to protect the legal rights of people with disabilities.
As the P&A for the State of Utah, we have played an integral role in the implementation of the Home and Community-Based Settings Rule. This work has included visits and interviews with consumers at over 30 residential and non-residential sites. Through this work we have learned that consumers generally express satisfaction with their sheltered workshop and staff, however, this did not mean consumers were satisfied with their rate of pay or vocational experience in a workshop.
Nearly all consumers we interviewed expressed that they wanted to make more money and work in an integrated setting. Interviewees requested help with Vocational Rehabilitation applications and spoke about what their ideal job would be. This included jobs such as working as a cook, helping customers at the Apple Store, and working as a mechanic. Consumers also frequently stated that they wanted to be able to save money and buy basic necessities such as clothing, cell phones, and a car. Yet, consumers knew this was not a possibility while earning subminimum wage. Consumers also described how earning subminimum wage impacted their ability to participate in the community. Because many people earned less that $5 a day they did not have enough money to go to the movies, go to the local activities with an entrance fee, or even pay for transit.
Eliminating the 14(c) certificates does not require facilities such as sheltered workshops to close or discontinue services. Several states have already eliminated the use of 14(c) certificates without experiencing a crisis among their service providers. Further, regulations promulgated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicare require sheltered workshops to ensure individuals are receiving integrated service and job training that will help individuals to work in the community. As these changes are made, it would be consistent with the direction of federal regulations to pay individuals with disabilities a commensurate wage as their non-disabled peers. In addition, we would support passage of the Transition to Competitive Employment Act which would end the practice of subminimum wage and provide assistance to businesses as they move away from this practice.
Individuals with disabilities are a valuable resources to the workforce and deserve to be paid a fair wage for their work. This in turn will increase opportunities for people control their personal resources, engage in integrated activities, and have the ability to buy their own necessities.