Raise sub-minimum wages, too [Letter]

In response to Laura Howell's commentary, "Minimum wage debate ignores crucial group" (Jan. 15), direct support professionals in the developmental disabilities field are paid through state funds — through programs that are currently woefully underfunded, which results in staff who are underpaid and underemployed and often need to work several jobs to make ends meet.

Direct support roles save lives, ensure valued participation in the community, provide employment supports and more. These jobs require professional training as well as precise compliance with specific policies and procedures established by the state and federal governments. We need to ensure that raising the minimum wage does not have negative unintended consequences such as lowering the value of other workers. Yes, raise the minimum wage and increase the rates for wages of direct support staff. It's the right thing to do, but that's not enough.

In the field of developmental disabilities, we respectfully submit that there is more than one "crucial group" that is being ignored in this debate. We must also address individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are earning sub-minimum wage. According to a U.S. Government Accounting Office report, sub-minimum wage is disproportionately used to pay people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Minimum wage workers make $7.25 an hour while, according to the GAO, sub-minimum wage workers on average make a meager $2.50 an hour. The lowest paid worker in Maryland makes only 6 cents an hour. Is that a "wage?" Discourse about wages must include a discussion on sub-minimum wage.

These practices are antiquated and date back to 1938 and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Today, we know that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities can be valued employees, peers and colleagues. Let's start treating them fairly. We need the state to create a transition plan to phase out antiquated practices and use current best practices such as supported employment, customized employment, volunteer employment and other various community-based daily activities.

The Arc Maryland advocates for change through legislation, policy and practice to protect the rights of persons with intellectual and development disabilities to just and favorable conditions of work, including equal opportunities and equal remuneration for work of equal value.

Carol Fried, Dan Schmitt, Kate Fialkowski and Aaron Kaufman, Annapolis

The writers are, respectively, president, governmental affairs chair, executive director, adult systems advocate and policy partner program manager of Arc Maryland.

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