Joint resolution (S.533), a bill to end subminimum wage in South Carolina, recently went to the floor of the House of Representatives following a favorable report with amendment from the Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee. South Carolina could become the third state in the Southeast, following North Carolina and Tennessee, and the fourteenth state in the nation, to end subminimum wage.

Currently, United States federal law grants certain employers a 14(c) certificate to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage— sometimes pennies an hour— per the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Disability advocates point out that many “employment training centers” for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities engage in problematic practices, benefitting from both Medicaid funding and business contracts, while paying the workers with disabilities who perform the work less than minimum wage.

According to a 2020 report issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the U.S. Department of Labor has repeatedly found 14(c) providers limiting people with disabilities from realizing their full potential while allowing providers and associated businesses to profit from their labor. In South Carolina as of 2022, nearly 1,000 people with disabilities are making less than the minimum wage through these programs.

South Carolina’s bill prioritizes the stability of these individuals who are currently subject to subminimum wage. Should the bill pass, a task force would assemble to create a two-year transition plan to phase out subminimum wage by August 1, 2024, ensuring that those currently working under 14(c) employers can successfully transition to other types of employment.

“We believe a two-year transition, which provides support for both providers and participants and is grounded in the values of informed choice and equal rights, is a positive path forward.,” says Kimberly Tissot, president and CEO of the disability non-profit Able South Carolina. She emphasizes that the bill’s passage would not immediately put anyone out of a job, “The two-year transition plan to end subminimum wage in SC will ensure a meaningful transition for the individuals receiving subminimum wage and promises that no one will be left behind. Research shows that workers with disabilities, when given equal opportunity and appropriate tools, can perform just as well as their non-disabled counterparts. We can work just as well as anyone else, and we deserve to be paid equally for it.”

S.533 is supported by disability-led and supported organizations in South Carolina, including Able South Carolina, Disability Rights South Carolina, The Association of People Supporting Employment First, Winthrop Think College, Thrive Upstate, The Charles Lea Center, College of Charleston Reach Program, South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation, U of SC Carolina LIFE, U of SC College of Education, Family Connection of SC, Coastal Carolina LIFE, SOS Care, SC Commission for the Blind, SC Developmental Disabilities Council, and The Arc of South Carolina.

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