Proposed legislation would end “subminimum wage” for people with disabilities in S.C.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) — Legislation in the state Senate would ban employers from paying people with disabilities less than minimum wage.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 allows some employers to pay workers with disabilities what’s called subminimum wage. Section 14(c) of the FLSA allows organizations like community rehabilitation programs to do this.

The advocacy group Able South Carolina is looking to end subminimal wages in the Palmetto State, saying section 14(c) is outdated and doesn’t prepare people with disabilities for higher-paying jobs.

“We’re now in 2021 and we know that people with disabilities can work in competitive and integrative environments,” said Kimberly Tissot, executive director of Able South Carolina.

A joint resolution in the state Senate would prohibit using section 14(c). The resolution says more than 2,900 South Carolinians with disabilities made less than minimum wage at the start of 2020. Tissot says that number fell to about 1,200 due to job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tissot also says subminimal wages also keeps some people who are disabled in poverty.

“It’s very discriminatory to place somebody in a working environment, having them perform a duty and then be paid less than minimum wage,” she said.

Susan John, who’s the executive director of Horry County Disabilities and Special Needs, says the group left the 14(c) program about five years ago.

“We really wanted to support our folks in making minimum wage and making a viable wage,” said John. “We just chose to change our contract to support that effort.”

President Joe Biden has called for an end to subminimum wage in his $15 federal minimum wage proposal.

If the joint resolution in South Carolina passes, section 14(c) would be phased out by August 2024.

“We can plan to make sure that there will be wraparound services and support available so that nobody will go unemployed from this,” Tissot said. “I will never let that happen.”

The joint resolution was sent to the Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee on Tuesday.

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