Tom Ridge: It’s time to end subminimum wage for workers with disabilities

There is no excuse for treating an entire class of American workers differently from others based solely on the characteristic of disability.

Tom Ridge, Opinion contributor

Among the millions of Americans who watched President Joe Biden’s Super Bowl interview on CBS were families touched by disability. One in five Americans has a disability, so it’s not an insignificant number.

I have to believe many of those families listened with great interest to the president’s comments when it came to the federal minimum wage — and for reasons you might not expect.

President Biden made news when he told Norah O’Donnell that he did not think his plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour is likely to happen as part of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package. It’s mainly due to a procedural issue now being debated in Congress.

Let’s set that procedural debate aside, because for families who live with disability, the focus isn’t so much on raising the minimum wage, but rather achieving a living wage at all.

As part of his American Rescue Plan, Biden has proposed not only increasing the minimum wage but doing away with a nearly century-old law that allows employers to pay individuals with disabilities far less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

There is no excuse for treating an entire class of American workers differently from others based solely on the characteristic of disability, yet that is exactly what current law allows.

The National Organization on Disability has joined with many of the largest and most effective disability organizations in America in opposing subminimum wages for workers with disabilities. We applaud Biden for his commitment to eliminating the subminimum wage, and we look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to get it done. We cannot allow it to become a casualty of negotiations in the House and Senate.

When I testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission on this issue in 2019, I explained that 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 in America. The Americans with Disabilities Act 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.

The phase out of what is known as section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sanctions paying individuals with disabilities less than minimum wage, is no less than another critical civil rights issue. It is inconsistent with the fairness and equal opportunity guaranteed to every citizen in the United States under existing legislation.

Some people working under 14(c) certificates earn mere pennies per hour. 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.

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

Nearly a century 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. This has been reaffirmed in the past year with so many of us working successfully from home, something people with disabilities have argued they could have been doing all along.

It is long past time to take this fair, commonsense step in the march to freedom for Americans with disabilities. By ensuring that the elimination of the sub-minimum wage remains part of his American Rescue Plan, President Biden can send a powerful message that all Americans, including those with disabilities, must have a chance to have the financial freedom and security we all desire.

Tom Ridge was the first U.S. secretary of Homeland Security and 43rd governor of Pennsylvania. He is chairman of the National Organization on Disability.

Read at USA Today

NOD Policy Update: Priorities of the Biden Administration, Executive Orders, Appointees and Nominations

Priorities of the Biden Administration

President Biden’s first priority is passing a COVID-19 response package. He released an American Recovery Plan, which included the below provisions related to individuals with disabilities.

  • Calls on Congress phase-out the sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities.
  • Asks for funding for states to deploy strike teams to long-term care facilities experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks.
  • Calls on Congress to expand eligibility of new economic stimulus payments to adult dependents who have been left out of previous rounds of relief and all mixed status households
  • Suggests creation of grants to more than 1 million of the hardest hit small businesses.

Congress is currently working on negotiating another COVID-19 package based on the provisions outlined in President Biden’s COVID-19 plan. Among his other priorities, President Biden also released a disability platform during his campaign. He is working to ensure that this platform is executed throughout his time in office.

Executive Orders

President Biden has recently announced a number of Executive Orders. Of note, he announced “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government,” which calls on all executive agencies to advance equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.

Biden Appointees and Nominations

President Biden continues to name staff and Administration officials. He recently named former EEOC Chair Jenny Yang as director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at DOL. Alison Barkoff, will be acting Commissioner of ACL. Once ACL has named the permanent position, Alison will be the Deputy Director of ACL. Other ACL appointees can be found here.

NCD announces new Chairman

The National Council on Disability (NCD) – an independent, nonpartisan federal agency that advises the President, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policy – announced Andrés J. Gallegos, of Chicago, Illinois, as its new Chairman. Previous Chairman Neil Romano remains on the Council as a member. Before being designated as Chairman by President Biden, Mr. Gallegos was originally appointed to NCD in February 2018 by then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Also announced was James Rodriguez as NCD’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Acting Assistant Secretary, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. Prior to his selection, Mr. Rodriguez served in various leadership roles including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Office of Warrior Care Policy, Office of the Secretary of Defense. In this role, Mr. Rodriguez served as the principal advisor on the coordination of recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration for wounded, ill, and injured Service members across the military departments.

Mr. Rodriguez also served as the Director for Veteran and Wounded Warrior programs at BAE Systems. In that capacity, he acted as the Corporate Liaison for the White House Joining Forces initiative, to senior military leaders, government officials, and nonprofit organizations, increasing the footprint of our nation’s wounded, ill, and injured across all spectrums.

Many doctors have negative perceptions of patients with disabilities — and that impacts quality of care, study finds

By Lauren Kent, CNN | Updated 1020 GMT (1820 HKT) February 4, 2021

 (CNN)More than 82% of American doctors say they believe patients with significant disabilities have a worse quality of life than people who don’t have disabilities, according to a new study. Those negative perceptions can have big impacts on the quality of care patients with disabilities receive.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital found that negative perceptions of patients with disabilities are widespread among physicians — to a degree they say is “disturbing.”

Just 56.5% of doctors strongly agreed that they welcomed patients with disabilities into their practices, and only 40.7% of doctors surveyed reported feeling very confident about their ability to provide the same quality of care to patients with disabilities, according to the study published in the journal Health Affairs.

“You would think that doctors should be very confident in their ability to provide equal quality care to all the patients that they agree to see, so that’s a troubling finding,” said lead study author Dr. Lisa Iezzoni, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Assumptions lead to worse care

Negative physician attitudes lead to health disparities and dangerous implications for the more than 61 million Americans who have disabilities, Iezzoni said.

For instance, many physicians assume that patients with disabilities are not sexually active, and therefore do not provide them with information about contraception, sexually transmitted infections or testing for cancers associated with sexual activity.

Just 56.5% of doctors strongly agreed that they welcomed patients with disabilities into their practices, according to a new study.

Many surgeons also presume women with disabilities who are diagnosed with breast cancer prefer mastectomies to breast-conserving surgery, under the false assumption that these patients don’t care about their physical appearance, the researchers wrote.

If physicians assume a patient has a poor quality of life, then they are also less likely to talk to them about quitting smoking or adopting other healthy lifestyle habits, Iezzoni said.

It can impact Covid care

The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the need for improvements and “has exposed long-standing aspects of US health care that severely disadvantage people with disability,” according to the researchers.

The impacts of doctor perceptions on Covid-19 care have “certainly been the concern among people in the disability community,” Iezzoni said.

“This worry prompted the DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) Office (for Civil) Rights last March to issue a directive saying that Covid treatment decisions could not be based on presumptions about quality of life.”

Doctors need to recognize their biases

The first step is for doctors to recognize that they have biases.

“I think that if physicians simply recognize they may have these biases, they need to just ask what their patients’ preferences are and what their patients’ views are — and not make assumptions,” said Iezzoni, who considers herself part of the disability community as a wheelchair user. “Virtually everybody I know with a disability thinks that their doctors just don’t understand what their lives are like.”

That sentiment is echoed by disability advocates, who say that many people — doctors included — have lots of fears, stereotypes and misconceptions about the lives of those with disabilities.

“I think it’s been an out of sight, out of mind situation,” said Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability. “It’s no different for doctors than it is for anybody else who has limited experience with a certain group of people and doesn’t understand their daily lives, their wants, their needs, and their abilities.”

Although physicians and other health care workers perceive that people with disabilities have an unsatisfying quality of life, that’s a paradox, according to the Massachusetts General Hospital study and Glazer’s group. A majority of those patients — about 54% — self-report having an “excellent or good quality of life,” according to the study.

“Disability does not mean inability,” added Glazer, who was not affiliated with the study. “Disability is a normal part of the human condition. And it’s something any of us can acquire at any time.”

Many people will have a disability

In fact, one out of every five people has a disability and more than 80% of those disabilities are acquired later in life, according to the National Organization on Disability.

The head of Inspire, a company that hosts support groups for more than 2 million patients and caregivers dealing with hundreds of different health conditions, told CNN that many members discuss experiencing skepticism or lack of understanding from medical professionals.

“There’s a lot of concern — patients describe not being believed by their doctor. Or they’re getting a certain look from their doctor because they have a disability or that they’re treated differently,” Inspire CEO Brian Loew said.

Loew said support groups can be incredibly useful for helping patients feel like they are not alone, as well as for practical things like getting advice about how to talk to doctors or making a game plan to get the most out of rushed medical appointments.

“It’s really upsetting reading how much patients suffer from some interactions with their doctors,” Loew said. “And I’m starting to feel that those (interactions) are maybe as important as treating the disease or disability itself.”

The Massachusetts General Hospital study also found that medical school curricula generally don’t include disability topics. The researchers call for all levels of medical education to include more training about disability, including disability cultural competence and etiquette.

“All physicians and health care providers can expect to see increasing volumes of patients with disability,” wrote the researchers, noting that the number of Americans with a disability is growing. “Why should people with disability, unlike other patients, be compelled to justify to their physicians how they value their lives?”

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