Rep. Sean Tarwater of Kansas testified last week in opposition to a move to ban tax credits for sheltered workshops that employ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and pay less than the minimum wage.
He explained that he felt the sheltered workshops were crucial. Tarwarter says sheltered workshops serve disabled people who cannot work at minimum wage or higher.
The average hourly wage for individuals employed in these settings is $3.34. Subminimum pay is perfectly legal because certain people with disabilities have been allowed to be paid less than the minimum wage according to U.S. labor law since 1938. This law was enacted during the Great Depression to encourage more individuals to seek employment.
In 2011, when some employees earned as little as 22 cents per hour, Goodwill International CEO Jim Gibbons earned $729,000 in salary and deferred pay. According to NBC, the CEOs of Goodwill franchises across the nation made a combined $30 million.
“They are people who really can’t do anything,” Tarwater said in reference to developmentally disabled Kansans who participate in these workshops. “If you do away with programs like that, they will rot at home,” he said Tuesday.
I am 23 years old and have Cerebral Palsy. Contrary to Rep. Tarwater’s belief, I don’t “rot at home” due to my disability. I live a wonderful life surrounded by family and friends whom I love dearly.
I’ve gone to Washington, D.C., seen Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins games, and been in the water with dolphins. Growing up, I participated in numerous sports. I attended local public schools. In the summer, I went to camps where I built robots, learned how to code, went swimming, and launched rockets. In the future, I hope to become a published author.
I have been looking for work since 2019 and haven’t had any luck. Employers are reluctant to hire me once they learn I have CP. I’ve had interviews canceled after disclosing my disability. Last year, I applied for jobs at Texas Roadhouse and Homewood Suites. After I disclosed my disability, the managers declined to interview me.
Being unemployed often makes me feel worthless. I currently receive Social Security benefits. I’ve realized that my worth is not determined by employment. Despite being unemployed, I am still valuable. I am currently a writer, and I enjoy sharing my experiences with the world.
A disability doesn’t mean someone can’t enjoy life, and be a valuable part of their community. We have bad days, pursue our passions, take risks, experience joy, and have fun. Disabled people are human, just like anybody else.
Bernard, Katie. “JoCo Republican Doubles down as Disability Rights Groups Seek Apology for ‘Hurtful’ Comments .” The Kansas City Star, The McClatchy Company, 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article272529740.html.
Berman, Jillian. “Some Goodwill Workers Earn as Little as 22 Cents an Hour.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 25 June 2013, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/goodwill-workers-disabilities-low-wage_n_3478013.
Selyukh, Alina. “Workers with Disabilities Can Earn JUST $3.34 an HOUR. Agency Says Law Needs Change.” NPR, NPR, 17 Sept. 2020, http://www.npr.org/2020/09/17/912840482/u-s-agency-urges-end-to-below-minimum-wage-for-workers-with-disabilities.