SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) — An Illinois House Democrat has been trying to phase out the sub-minimum wages for workers with developmental and intellectual disabilities since 2019. State representatives had the opportunity to pass a bill tackling this issue Friday, but the Dignity in Pay Act failed to gain enough support after an intense debate.
Disabled workers have been paid much less than the state’s minimum wage for many years, and some lawmakers stress it is past time to eliminate the sub-minimum wage.
Rep. Theresa Mah (D-Chicago) said Friday that the state should empower people with disabilities to maximize their employment and self-sufficiency. Mah and many other lawmakers believe it is wrong that some people are paid as low as 50 cents per hour and make only $100 per month.
“With this legislation, Illinois would be among those states recognizing that all persons, regardless of disability, will earn at least a minimum wage for work by eliminating the payment of sub-minimum wages by 2027,” Mah explained.
The Dignity in Pay Act could create a multi-year plan to eliminate the use of 14 C certificates on July 1, 2027. The Illinois Employment and Economic Opportunity for Persons with Disabilities Task Force would be responsible for recommending future state policies, benchmarks, and funding levels to meet this goal.
“It’s time that we set a firm date to eliminate the payment of sub-minimum wages in Illinois and engage in the work necessary to ensure that we can increase employment opportunities for persons with disabilities,” Mah said.
House Democrats said paying a sub-minimum wage reinforces the untrue and unfortunate expectations about people with disabilities in the workforce. Still, House Republicans said business owners will be forced to make cuts if they have to pay higher wages.
“A lot of businesses don’t want somebody that only has an attention span of two to four hours that can work,” said Rep. Charlie Meier (R-Okawville). “They want somebody that’s able to work eight hours. So, you now have a person who you made unemployed and they don’t have that check.”
Other Republicans argue that local manufacturers and businesses hire people with disabilities as a form of charity and shouldn’t have to raise the wage.
“If you’re viewing these places as places of employment, you’re looking at it wrong,” said Rep. Dan Ugaste (R-Geneva). “We provide a social service. These are social service providers and they do it without any funding from the state.”
Although, the bill calls for a special grant fund to help community agencies transition away from the sub-minimum wages. Co-sponsors noted that some businesses are already making this change without a law in place.
“This bill will only further escalate and accelerate that effort to support the adults with disabilities that need the jobs, need the work, and need the socialization like my siblings,” said Rep. Bob Morgan (D-Deerfield).
Rep. Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur) said he appreciated the intent of the bill and the time Mah has dedicated toward the long-term plan. However, Caulkins explained he couldn’t support the hard deadlines for the mandated wage increase for disabled workers.
“Let’s have the task force. Let’s get together,” Caulkins said. “Let’s work on trying to find a way. Let’s look at federal programs that we can bring here for every sheltered care workshop. But before we do that, let’s not force this minimum wage on our sheltered care workshops.”
However, Caulkins commended Mah for including a provision in the bill to state that community group home residents should receive a personal allowance of at least $100 per month by January 1. House Bill 793 also calls for the personal needs allowance to increase annually at the same rate as the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment taking effect at the start of each year.
The plan failed to pass on a 59-32 vote with 11 representatives voting present.
Mah asked for the bill to be put on postponed consideration. That means the House could vote on her plan when lawmakers return this week.
“A better future is possible – one that honors the worth, and the potential, and the dignity of all people,” Mah stressed.
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May 22, 2023 at 10:46PM