A proposal that could have wiped out jobs for people with disabilities at KANDU Industries in Janesville is off the table—for the moment.
The proposal was part of the American Rescue Plan Act, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19-related economic stimulus bill President Joe Biden signed into law earlier this month.
The bill would have outlawed the sub-minimum wages allowed for people who work at KANDU and sheltered workshops like it, but the provision, along with the proposed increase in the federal minimum wage, was dropped from the final version.
About 200 KANDU clients are cognitively disabled, some of them so severely that working in a regular workplace would be impossible, said KANDU Executive Director Kathy Hansen.
Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., agreed on his visit to KANDU in February.
The low wages are allowed under section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
In an email Monday, Steil said that after his visit, he worked in Congress to draw attention to the negative impacts of eliminating the section and to highlight the importance of the jobs for thousands of workers with disabilities around the state.
“Our work is far from over, as these job-killing proposals are likely to resurface,” Steil said. “I will continue bringing awareness to this issue and working to provide all Wisconsinites with the opportunity to work, contribute, and find fulfillment in their lives.”
Hansen said KANDU workers are assigned job coaches to guide them through complexities of work that most people take for granted. She cited an example of one worker who didn’t realize he shouldn’t leave his wallet on the break room table.
“If 14(c) would go away, we wouldn’t be able to provide people with the severe disabilities with that support,” Hansen said.
But some legislators in both parties have signaled support for eliminating the sub-minimum wage.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a report last year saying people who earn the sub-minimum wages are no different from others with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have been integrated into jobs in the regular workplace.