Legislators squash proposal that would have reduced employment for disabled Minnesotans

Last month, I wrote about a bill in the state legislature which would have abolished sub-minimum wages for people with disabilities. I concluded that:

There is a fundamental policy question here: We all wish that disability carried no wage penalty but the sad reality is that in some cases it does and we cannot magic it away with the wave of a legislative wand. Reality often gives us a choice between a sub-optimal outcome and an even more sub-optimal one. In those situations – in this situation – we ought to choose the former instead of pretending that some third option exists. The personal costs of pursuing such fantasies will be devastating.

The measure now appears to be dead. The Minnesota House reports:

Workers with a disability may continue to work for less than minimum wage.

The human services policy conference committee reached agreement Friday on the committee report to HF4392/SF4399* and sent it back to the House and Senate for a final vote.

An amendment offered by Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood) would have prohibited employers from hiring individuals with a disability and paying them less than the highest applicable minimum wage, as of Aug. 1, 2027, and would have phased out such practices for existing employees between Aug. 1, 2026, to Aug. 1, 2029. It failed on a tie vote.

Under section 14c of the Fair Labor Standards Act, certified employers may pay individuals with disabilities wages less than the applicable minimum wage.

Opponents previously testified that the program limits individuals with disabilities from realizing a higher earning potential as W2 employees in their communities. Proponents have testified that 14c workers derive purpose and meaning through their work, as well as opportunities to socialize with coworkers, where otherwise they would be in isolation at home.

The amendment would also have aimed to incorporate individuals with disabilities into state government jobs through proactive recruitment. Further, it would have required the state to help each 14c employer to transition toward paying employees the applicable minimum wage by Aug. 1, 2029.

The report closes with two quotes worth commenting on:

“We know that there is trauma when you are given value that is so low,” said Sen. Alice Mann (DFL-Edina). “You deserve better than that and so I am voting ‘yes’ today.”

The lower wage does not reflect the lower worth of the individual in any moral sense but the lower worth of that individual’s economic output.

Sen. Paul Utke (R-Park Rapids) disagreed. “I feel the system is working well.” 

This is, more or less, correct. As I wrote previously:

Minnesota’s model of disability employment can, in fact, be seen as a success. According to the Center for Research on Disability, 51.5% of Civilians with Disabilities Aged 18-64 Years Living in the Community were employed in Minnesota in 2022, the eighth highest rate in the United States.

Happily, it looks like the attempt to reduce that share has been stopped. For now, anyway.