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If we eliminate submininum wages, what will the impact be on individuals with disabilities?

Guest Editorial
Eric Sage, executive director, Rock County Opportunities, Luverne

I have been asked a lot lately what I think about the growing movement across the country and here in Minnesota to end subminimum wages for people with disabilities in the next five years.
It's comforting that Minnesota has a Task Force on Eliminating Subminimum Wages to help develop a plan if this bill does pass.
However, I’m nervous about removing options for individuals with disabilities. Higher wages would be fantastic for those we serve who can work competitively in the community.
Our goal at Rock County Opportunities (RCO) is to encourage independence and sustainability, but we know there is not a one-size-fits-all service. Everyone we serve is completely different.
I have supported individuals with disabilities for the last 15 years in several different areas, and I believe that the more options we can offer, the more successful the individuals we support will be long-term.
RCO’s mission is to empower people of all abilities to achieve all they can. We serve individuals with physical, developmental, and intellectual disabilities. I believe that RCO is the only nonprofit disability service provider in Luverne.
The individuals we serve at RCO can choose what their day will look like. They can:
•participate in our enrichment programs, working in the community while receiving a competitive wage,
•work with our Vocational Rehabilitation Services program to get help finding an independent job placement, or
•work in our facility which holds a 14c subminimum wage certificate.
This certificate allows us as a small rural nonprofit organization to provide choices to the individuals and families we support.
As minimum wage increases and more jobs become automated, my fear is that jobs may not be available for many of the individuals we support who cannot work competitively in the community.
I also do not know what our individuals will do during that lost time that they would have been working in our facility. Several people we serve need consistent support from their dedicated staff team to complete the required tasks.
The timing of this also concerns me when there are more than 3,500 Minnesotans that are currently on waiting lists to receive day and employment services exactly like the services we provide here at RCO. Some have been waiting for more than three years.
At RCO we do not want to prematurely remove our 14c certificate without a solid understanding of what will replace this opportunity for the individuals we serve.
After speaking with the families and individuals who would be impacted by the elimination of subminimum wage, I am not certain that the wage is more important than an established environment where the individuals feel safe, accepted, and have a sense of purpose.
I have learned to trust that families know the individual needs and preferences of their loved ones better than I do.
I do not know what the impact of this legislation will be if passed.
I hope we are looking at data in other states that have already made the decision to eliminate subminimum wage to understand what that might look like here in Minnesota.
I know that here at RCO we will continue to advocate for those we love and support as we have been for the last 55 years.
At the end of the day, I am confident that RCO and other providers like us will continue to find creative ways to carry out our mission while providing opportunities for those we serve to make choices in how their services are received and delivered.