2020 Presidential Candidate Survey on Disability: Employment

The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is nearly three times higher than the unemployment rate of people without disabilities. Federal law allows people with disabilities to be paid a subminimum wage if they have a disability. Some states, including New Hampshire, have outlawed this practice.

Q: What are your views on paying a subminimum wage based on disability?

Joe Biden

Under the Obama-Biden Administration, we issued an executive order “raising the minimum wage for workers on federal contracts”, including workers with disabilities. As president, I will work to further wage protections for workers with disabilities by enacting legislation
eliminating the subminimum wage based on disability. This is the right thing to do for workers and our economy. Since the historic passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, we’ve witnessed that people with disabilities have the ability to work with reasonable accommodations and their full participation in the workforce is not just morally and ethically right, it is good business. People with disabilities should be paid a fair wage consistent with national and state minimum wage laws—not less.

A Biden Administration will also ensure that workers with disabilities who need it have access to supported employment and customized employment services. The Obama-Biden Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services provided funding to increase state
and local capacity to provide supported employment programs to adults with mental illness. As president, I will build on this work to ensure that supported employment services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and people with mental illness are expanded. And, I will direct the Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration to enforce the integrated employment provisions of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act consistent with the regulations issued in 2016. I will also restore the Department of Justice’s guidance on the application of the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision to employment services. The fact that the Trump Administration revoked such a crucial civil rights protection is disgraceful.

As president, I will work with the disability community to issue a disability employment-focused executive order and to build on the Obama-Biden Administration’s progress to increase federal employment for individuals with disabilities. Under our administration, we increased the percentage and actual number of workers with disabilities in the federal government to a higher level than at any time over the last three decades. I will build on that progress, by leveraging the Schedule A Special Hiring Authority and aggressively enforcing Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act. I will ensure that my administration is working toward developing specific hiring and advancement goals for individuals with disabilities, including those with significant disabilities.

*The following responses are from candidates who are no longer running

Michael Bennett*

Oppose. Michael does not support paying a subminimum wage based on disability.

* No longer running

Cory Booker*

Anyone who wants to work should be able to do so, in a job that pays a living wage and offers meaningful benefits. That’s why I’m a co-sponsor of the Raise the Wage Act, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, and phase out subminimum wages for workers with disabilities, as well as for tipped workers and youth workers.

* No longer running

Steve Bullock*

I support eliminating the subminimum wage. It my priority to ensure competitive integrated employment for all individuals with disabilities. increasing job training opportunities for people with disabilities. In Montana, we have worked hard to substantially reduce subminimum wage employment by more than 40% since the passage of the WIOA. Further, I would work to increase funding for career opportunities through state partnerships to ensure that there are more workplace opportunities for people with disabilities.

* No longer running

Pete Buttigieg*

I support repealing Section 14c of the Fair Labor Standards Act. No one in the United States should be exempted from minimum wage laws. This practice is indefensible. In office, my priorities will include increasing opportunities for competitive integrated employment and ensuring that federal agencies are fully committed to the employment of veterans with disabilities.

* No longer running

Julian Castro*

I am committed to enforcing nondiscrimination laws that protect people with disabilities in workplace settings and ensure that disabled people are given opportunities for meaningful and fulfilling employment opportunities. If we want to treat workers with disabilities with dignity, we must eliminate the subminimum wage and ensure workers with disabilities can earn the federal minimum wage.

* No longer running

John Delaney*

I do not think people with disabilities should be paid below the federal minimum wage. In Congress, I cosponsored legislation, the Raise the Wage Act, that would phase out the sub-minimum wage for workers with disabilities, bar the Department of Labor from issuing more special sub-minimum wage certificates, and offer employers assistance in transitioning affected workers to integrated employment and continuing to provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

* No longer running


Tulsi Gabbard*

I don’t believe there should be a subminimum wage for workers with disabilities. I applaud states like New Hampshire who have outlawed this practice but this needs to change at the federal level — my administration will raise the minimum wage and end subminimum wages for workers with disabilities.

*No longer running

Kirsten Gillibrand*

I support the phase out of this antiquated practice and believe we need providers to be transitioning from 14(c) wage employment to competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. I am a cosponsor of the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, which will phase out the subminimum wage for people with disabilities while providing support and oversight for the transition period. I also support the Raise the Wage Act, which will get rid of the subminimum wage for people with disabilities. I believe that equal pay is fundamental to this country and an important step toward the broader goal of encouraging self-sufficiency. To help achieve that goal, I have supported the ABLE Act since I joined the Senate in 2009 and I supported the ABLE To Work Act to allow people with disabilities and their families to save money while retaining their benefits.

* No longer running

Kamala Harris*

People with disabilities have the right to work a job that pays the minimum wage or higher–absolutely nothing less. That’s why I am a proud co-sponsor of the Raise the Wage Act, which would eliminate the subminimum wage and raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers. Eliminating the subminimum wage is about ensuring justice and equality, and it’s past time we get it done.

As we fight for just wages, we also must fight for increased opportunity. We’ve made so much progress since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, but too often in America, people with disabilities are left out of the workforce or forced to take under-stimulating jobs. We need to do more. That’s why as president, I will fight to ensure students with disabilities have adequately funded classrooms, expand access to integrated employment opportunities, and appoint an Attorney General who will prioritize enforcement of the ADA. We can reduce the unemployment rate for people with disabilities without the injustice of sacrificing fair pay.

* No longer running

Jay Inslee*

A loophole in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows certain employers to pay employees with disabilities wages that are a fraction of minimum wage. I think it is improper to diminish the value of individual contributions simply because they came from a person with a disability. I agree that this minimum wage loophole should be closed, and that employees with disabilities should be paid the prevailing wage for their work. In Washington state, where I serve as governor, I signed legislation ensuring no state agency employ persons with disabilities under subminimum wage certificates – House Bill 1706 – on May 13th, 2019. As president, I would support similar legislation from Congress.

* No longer running

Amy Klobuchar*

Senator Klobuchar is an original cosponsor of the Raise the Wage Act, which would guarantee that all workers are paid at least the federal minimum wage by phasing out the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities. As President, Senator Klobuchar will make a $15 minimum wage for all workers a priority and put a $15 minimum wage place for all federal contractors during the first 100 days of her presidency.

* No longer running

Beto O’Rourke*

Every citizen, with or without a disability, should be able to earn a fair and just wage, and work in an integrated workplace that ensures workers are not segregated based on disability. Individuals with disabilities should have the same opportunities for benefits and career advancement as other employees, and earn the same wage as those without disabilities who perform similar work. As Congressman, Beto co-sponsored the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act of 2017, which would have phased out section (14)c of the Fair Labor Standards Act (which presently allows employers to obtain a permit to legally pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage). To complement this bill, Beto believes we should explore ways to incentivize employers to hire individuals with disabilities including increased support for Employment First initiatives which prioritize employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in integrated settings within the community.

* No longer running

Tim Ryan*

Every American, including people with disabilities, deserve to earn a livable wage. People with disabilities should have opportunities to work alongside their peers in a job and community of their choosing. And they should receive the same wages and benefits as other employees. No one should be paid less for having a disability.

* No longer running

Bernie Sanders*

Despite the progress that has been made over the past two decades, we unfortunately still live in a world where people with disabilities have fewer work opportunities, are often forced to work in sheltered workshops where they are paid as little as 2 cents per hour, and experience much higher rates of poverty.

When Bernie is in the White House, we will end the subminimum wage for individuals with disabilities so that all persons with disabilities are paid a livable wage. In addition, we will enact a federal jobs guarantee that will pay living wages to all persons with disabilities who want to work through the program.

* No longer running

Joe Sestak*

The issue of paying a subminimum wage to people with disabilities is a difficult one. While the lawmakers who originally made it legal had the best intentions — enabling more people with disabilities to find roles in the workplace — it is also ripe for abuse and exploitation. It traps people with disabilities into menial jobs, instead of getting the chance to try more complicated tasks with greater responsibilities. I therefore believe we must phase out the legal subminimum wage, which is codified in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. I would support a plan along the lines of the Transformation of Competitive Employment Act, raising subminimum wages for people with disabilities gradually over 6 years, ultimately meeting the federal minimum wage. The same bill also includes additional funding to pay for grants and creating a technical assistance center for businesses that currently employ people with disabilities at a subminimum wage, to help them transition to employing people with disabilities following a more integrated, competitive model.

* No longer running

Tom Steyer*

Every worker deserves to make a minimum wage of at least $15 per hour. I stand with the unions and advocates who have been fighting for better wages for American people. In addition to supporting a $15.00 dollar minimum wage, I support and will advocate for living wages for all Americans.

All people have significant value to contribute to our society, but we are behind in creating access to those opportunities for people with disabilities. Our economy has left too many people behind, and people with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than their peers. We must ensure that all Americans have access to economic security —and the chance to excel. This is why I support a living wage for all Americans, with no more carve outs that let corporations under-pay people with disabilities. In order to create a just economy, we have to treat people as we would wish to be treated: equally.

* No longer running

Eric Swalwell*

All American workers should be paid a living wage, including workers with disabilities. I have cosponsored bipartisan legislation – the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act – to phase out “Section 14 (c)” jobs in which, under the Fair Labor Standards act, employers get waivers to pay subminimum wages, sometimes as little as $2 or $3 per hour, to workers with disabilities.

Until this is accomplished, I would support better oversight and regulation of sheltered workplaces which are meant to provide training to works with disabilities, but too often severely underpay those workers.

California can be a model for the rest of the country. The state’s Competitive Integrated Employment Blueprint, subtitled “Real Work for Real Pay in the Real World,” makes a priority of employment in an integrated setting, at a competitive wage, for individuals with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities.

I also support the letter sent in April 2018 by seven senators to Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta requesting information about the DOL’s oversight of employer minimum-wage waivers under FLSA Section 14(c). The letter specifically asks DOL to publicly report the pay rates and data on the Department’s evaluation of certificate applications, violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Department’s revocation of certificates, among other information.

* No longer running

Elizabeth Warren*

I have always believed in the principle of equal pay for equal work, but today, it is perfectly legal for an employer to hire workers with disabilities and pay them below what they pay workers without disabilities for doing the same work. They can even apply for permission to pay workers with disabilities below the federal minimum wage. It’s a disgrace.

Individuals with disabilities should have the opportunity to reach their full potential in competitive and integrated employment settings, and they should receive fair wages for their work. For these reasons, I have worked to end the subminimum wage, and I have pressured the Department of Labor to more aggressively crack down on the abuse of 14(c) certificates. This policy enforces harmful and inaccurate stigmas, and we should phase it out in a responsible way.

* No longer running

Marianne Williamson*

Marianne Williamson does not support paying persons with disabilities sub-minimum wages.

* No longer running

Andrew Yang*

I support a repeal of the portions of the FLSA allowing for a subminimum wage to be paid based on disability. I believe there are better ways to encourage the hiring of those with disabilities at normal wages, including federal subsidies.

* No longer running


Disability Rights Center – New Hampshire is a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating barriers for people with disabilities across New Hampshire. DRC is the federally designated protection and advocacy agency for New Hampshire and has authority under federal law to conduct investigations in cases of probable abuse or neglect.

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