NOD Chairman, Gov. Tom Ridge, Presents to U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Nov 18, 2019

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On Friday, November 15th, 2019, NOD Chairman and former Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Ridge, sat before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights representing the National Organization on Disability. There to discuss the abolition of sub-minimum wages for Americans with disabilities, Gov. Ridge’s remarks touched upon the dignity of work, and the right of all Americans to participate in our national prosperity towards independence and financial security.

Governor Tom Ridge presents before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Gov. Ridge presents to the Civil Rights Commission

Read the full text of Gov. Ridge’s remarks, below.

 

Remarks on Behalf of National Organization on Disability
To the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
November 15, 2019

Good afternoon. First let me thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. It is an honor to appear as chairman of the National Organization of Disability, which I have been privileged to serve since shortly after I left public service in 2005.

I also want to acknowledge the comments of my fellow panelists for their expertise and remarks.

The National Organization on Disability is a private, nonprofit organization that promotes the full participation and contributions of America’s 57 million people with disabilities n all aspects of life. We primarily focus on increasing employment opportunities for the nearly 80% of working age Americans with disabilities who are not employed.

The core civil rights vision of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other disability rights laws inform the approach NOD takes to improving the lives of children and adults with disabilities. The historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 unequivocally told the world that discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex, or national orientation would not be tolerated within America. The ADA expanded the Civil Rights Act’s powerful and historic protections to include people with disabilities. All Americans should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Over the last few months, I’ve had the privilege, through my work with NOD, to meet with many of the largest, most politically influential, and most effective disability organizations in America today. We’ve put aside our specific agendas and individual priorities and found common cause. Collectively, we represent a powerful political constituency. We concluded that we needed to collaborate to bring more workers with disabilities into the competitive labor market with fair wages. We concluded that we would work together to phase out section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sanctions paying individuals with disabilities less than minimum wage. We concluded this is a civil rights issue and that 14(c) is inconsistent with the fairness and equal opportunity guaranteed to every citizen in the Unites under existing legislation.

Some people working under 14(c) certificates earn mere pennies per hour. We see this clearly as a Civil Rights issue. No one, regardless of creed, race, gender, age, or disability, should be subject to such economic discrimination. This system tells Americans with disabilities and their families that they are not worth the same as other Americans, that society values them and their labor less.

This practice is also contrary to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which sought to achieve fairness by providing statutory protection of the rights of Americans with disabilities to compete on a level playing filed with their non-disabled peers.

Back in 1938, when the FLSA legislation was first passed, everyone assumed that a worker with a disability was less productive than a non-disabled worker. In retrospect, a flawed assumption. We want to be fair to the intent of the original legislation, which was to provide, at minimum, individuals with disabilities an opportunity to enter the workforce.

80 years later, however, the law still contains Section 14(c). Now we know that workers with disabilities, given equal opportunity and appropriate tools or technologies, can perform as well as their non-disabled counterparts.

NOD has proof of this. Each year, NOD recognizes businesses through their Leading Disability Employer Seal™. This applauds organizations that are leading the way in disability inclusion and tapping into the many benefits of hiring talent with disabilities, including high rates of productivity and dedication, and greater employee engagement across the workforce.

The experience of these companies confirms that individuals with disabilities perform far beyond typical expectations and as well as their non-disabled peers.

Some well-intentioned advocates express concern that elimination of 14(c) would severely limit opportunities for many Americans with disabilities who may use workshops as both a place for meaningful social interaction and a respite for caregivers. We understand their concern, but we remind them there are other options available. 14(c) is not a funding program, it is a certificate. Federal funding will still be available to support individuals with disabilities.

Person-centered planning, where funding goes directly to the individual with a disability instead of to a 14(c)-certificate holding agency is an excellent option. Person-centered planning gives an opportunity for individuals with disabilities to have a greater voice in their life direction. Let me give you a wonderful example. NOD’s executive director Carol Glazer’s son, Jacob, has a severe disability. He also has meaningful employment.

Thanks to a person-centered planning model, Jacob works part-time, above minimum wage at the NBA store. Medicaid pays for his job coach at the store. Jacob also volunteers in integrated settings the rest of the time and takes weekly classes in art, music, cooking, and fitness. We believe that transitioning federal supports toward a person-centered planning model will give people more choices than they realize, like Jacob has choices.
Individuals with disabilities, parents, and caregivers can then choose to use federal funding for job coaches, supports, or ultimately at agencies. Eliminating 14(c) would give individuals with disabilities, their families, and the organizations that support them greater flexibility.

All this being said, we understand that transitioning away from our current model will take time and resources. We believe that supports to states and providers to transition away from 14(c) are necessary to help make this successful.

In 2016, the Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities released a report. As you are aware, the Advisory Committee was established under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The Committee was comprised of government officials, self-advocates, providers of employment services, representatives of national disability advocacy organizations, experts with a background in academia, employer representatives, and others with related expertise. The Advisory Committee called on Congress to allow for a multi-year, well-planned phase out of Section 14(c). It detailed that the federal government should assist with building the capacity of service systems to provide alternatives to those provided for under programs using a 14(c) certificate.
Similarly, the National Council on Disability’s released a report, “National Disability Employment Policy, From the New Deal to the Real Deal: Joining the Industries of the Future.” The National Council on Disability is an independent federal agency charged with advising the President, Congress, and other federal agencies regarding policies that affect people with disabilities. NCD also recommends phasing out of 14(c) while providing increased capacity supports as well. It recommended that the Department of Labor issue a two-year moratorium on any new 14(c) certificates, and that oversight of the existing 14(c) system be increased until the phase-out is complete.
These two established, respected groups, are absolutely right. The federal government should phase out 14(c) AND provide supports to ensure the transition is smooth. That is why the National Organization on Disability, along with the more than dozen groups we have joined together with, support the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act introduced by Senators Casey and Van Hollen and Representatives Bobby Scott and Cathy McMorris Rodgers. This legislation was carefully crafted to phase-out 14(c) while providing resources to states, services providers, subminimum wage certificate holders, and other agencies to ensure inclusive wraparound services for individuals with disabilities. These resources could be used to help providers create new models of workforce opportunities for individuals with disabilities that do not rely on subminimum wage.

In 2019, there is no excuse for treating an entire class of workers differently from others based solely on the characteristic of disability. Such treatment is discriminatory, just as it would be if applied to individuals of a specific race, gender, or sex. All Americans, including those with disabilities, must have a chance to have the financial freedom and security we all desire. Their sense of self-worth and the value of their labor requires society to protect their right to secure employment at least at minimum wage. After 80 years, phasing out Section 14(c) is a step that we can take right now to move closer to that goal. It is long past time to take this fair, commonsense step in the march to freedom for Americans with disabilities.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share these thoughts with you – and yes – thank you for your public service.

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