NCD criticizes minimum wage executive order

Photo of a red street sign stating "Equal Pay"
End subminimum wage policy

President Obama’s new executive order to increase the minimum wage for federal contractors, announced at the State of the Union, will have a “negligible” impact on many federal employees with disabilities, the NCD stated in a letter addressed January 30 to the President and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.

Although the executive order will purportedly raise the minimum wage for these employees to $10.10 per hour, it will not impact a long-criticized program that allows certain employees to pay people with disabilities at subminimum wages.

“NCD applauds your commitment to reducing income inequality, and urges the steadfast inclusion of Americans with disabilities in these efforts,” the NCD stated in the letter.

Under section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, enacted in 1938, employers can apply to the Department of Labor for a Special Minimum Wage Certificate, which allows them to pay certain employees with disabilities subminimum wages. Although these certificates were meant to create temporary job opportunities to individuals who otherwise may not be employed, more than 95 percent of people in these positions never transition into competitive employment.

The NCD called for the gradual phase-out of the program in a 2012 report.

“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,” the NCD stated in the letter. “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.”

The poverty rate for people with disabilities is more than three times that of the general population. Nationwide, just 18.7 percent of people with disabilities are considered to participate in the workforce, compared to 68.3 percent of people without disabilities.

The NCD is an independent federal agency charged with advising Congress and the president on disability issues.