Suzanne Sewell, President & CEO , Troy Strawder, Board Chair
On July 22, 2014, President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The bill addresses unemployment across the spectrum – from vocational training, resume writing and English as a second language, to laid-off workers, disabled veterans and Americans with disabilities – the legislation casts a wide net through a host of federal government programs. In terms of Americans with disabilities, the bill is aimed at helping to prepare a new generation of young people with disabilities to succeed in competitive employment and predominantly impacts individuals with disabilities who are 24 years old and younger. This “new generation” will be required to first try vocational rehabilitation services before they are permitted to work in jobs paying less than the federal minimum wage. The bill is compatible with Florida’s Employment First Initiative which Florida ARF supports.
Meanwhile, Congressman Gregg Harper of Mississippi is sponsoring the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013 (HR 831), that if passed, would phase out 14(c) special wage certificates under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 over a three year period. The bill has 94 sponsors and additional members of congress are poised to sign on. In Florida, six members of the congressional delegation have already signed onto the bill – Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Ander Crenshaw, Alcee Hastings, Daniel Webster, and Dennis Ross.
Now more than ever, the insights and viewpoints of Floridians with disabilities and their representatives are essential to the policy discussions going on at the national level. As we know, one size does not fit all. Many Community Rehabilitation Provider Agencies serve diverse constituencies and it is imperative that we make sure our congressional leaders are provided with a balanced perspective on the concerns and merits of center-based work experiences and 14(c) certificates and the need for more oversight of the programs at the federal levels. A number of variables play into the current equation including funding mechanisms, appropriate budget allocations and limits to disability compensations making it imperative that our congressional leaders recognize the true complexity of these issues.
We believe employees with disabilities and their representatives are the ones who should explain their experiences and tell their personal stories and that their representatives will hear and understand the complexities of the pending policy issues best when it comes from their own constituents.
Congressional Education Campaign
Florida ARF will be assisting its member agencies and interested parties with a campaign to educate members of the Florida Congressional delegation about the long-term implications of the policy decisions they are currently addressing. We encourage recipients and community rehabilitation providers to demonstrate real-life examples of how the proposed legislation to phase out 14 (c) would impact Floridians with disabilities in each congressman and woman’s district.
Collecting Authentic, Florida Stories
First and foremost, the campaign will involve telling the stories of employees throughout the state about their experiences in center-based employment environments and 14(c) employment opportunities and what they and their caregivers would be doing if the programs were eliminated.
Even though we support federal legislation and Employment First trends for younger employees with disabilities for youth transitioning out of school, we still need to feature current employees that would not be served outside of their current environments so that every individual with a significant disability has employment options. Therefore, we have developed a form to help your staff document the unique stories of the individuals they serve who receive 14 (c) subminimum wages.
Developing the Packet and Case Statement
With collaboration and final approval from each participating agency, staff will develop a packet of the top stories. The packet will also include white papers from appropriate sources, a Florida ARF position paper, and other relevant materials developed in collaboration with staff from a member agency.
Schedule Visits to Congressional District Offices
The Florida ARF Grassroots webpage contains information on how to set up Congressional appointments and a link to each US Senator and Representative serving Florida. Whenever possible, these visits should include employees with disabilities, their families, and other stakeholders on the scheduled visit to the congressional office. Remember, the purpose of the visit is to ensure that each congressional office hears directly from the community that will be impacted by the pending policy changes and what repercussions it will have on both the employee and the employee’s caregivers’ quality of life.
Let’s make a difference nationally and empower all Floridians with disabilities to validate the current merits of their employment!