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Future of OTC Programs

Important message from Joseph Bender, OTC Executive Director, regarding the future of OTC Programs

 

You may have read that so called advocates for the disabled are continuing to push for the elimination of Section 14-C of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which authorizes government certified employers to pay special wages to certain workers with disabilities which are less than the federal minimum wage. I say “so called advocates for the disabled” because it is difficult to believe they truly understand the effect this will have on the individuals with disabilities who work at the OTC or the hundreds of thousands of individuals nationwide they claim to represent.

In Maine, where the state closed work centers like the OTC, 2/3rds of the people previously employed are no longer working anywhere and those who are working are earning less per week because of the reduction in the number of hours worked. This well documented reality flies in the face of the advocates claim that everyone will be employed in “real jobs” if work centers are closed.

If we do not all respond to the actions of this group, I fear the administration will bow to their pressure and that will most certainly mean the end of our benchwork program and similar programs across the county. It is vitally important the administration hear personally from you, someone who is not part of a group with a limited understanding of the consequences of eliminating this important legislation but a parent or guardian who, more than anyone, understands their child’s/ward’s abilities and desires to continue to work and be productive.

The Department of Education and the Department of Labor are currently considering comments submitted on the proposed rules on the Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act (WIOA), impacting rules for employment of individuals with significant disabilities. These proposed rules, should they be finalized as is, would be detrimental to the employment of individuals with the most significant disabilities across the country.

While we are no longer able to submit comments directly to the Departments of Labor and Education for official consideration, we can continue to reach out to Members of Congress regarding our concerns and ask them, in turn, to communicate with the Secretaries of Labor and Education on behalf of their constituents.

It is imperative that Members of the House and Senate hear from you about the negative impact these proposed regulations would have on employment for individuals with significant disabilities. Please send a letter now!

The following sample letter from a parent perfectly states our concerns. Please send a letter to your representatives in Congress and the Senate and ask that they encourage members of the Departments of Education and Labor to visit the Occupational Training Center of Burlington County or one of the hundreds of similar benchwork programs throughout the United States before they come to any decision.

Here is the sample letter:

 As the parent/guardian of a person with a disability, and as your constituent, I am writing to you today regarding some concerns that I have on the proposed WIOA regulations. I am concerned about the expanded qualifications issued to the definition of ‘competitive integrated employment.’ While those regulations were issued by Education, the application of the definition to Section 511 employment makes it a concern of the Department of Labor as well. The addition of the ‘work unit’ modifying definition added by the Department of Education in Title IV, Section 404(5) is too restrictive and goes beyond the statute you established. I urge you to work with Rehabilitation Services Administration Commissioner LaBreck to reconsider and revise the language in the rule to align with Congressional intent. While some may paint a picture of Section 14(c) programs as negative or discriminatory because of the commensurate wages they earn, my child/ward earns more than just a paycheck when they go to work; they earn the dignity, respect, and self-esteem which comes with earning a paycheck. Individuals with the most significant disabilities should be allowed the dignity of choice when it comes to the work and work environment they engage in, just as every other worker does. I urge you to come and see a Section 14(c), program in person for yourself and talk with my child/ward directly.

 

Best regards,

Joseph S. Bender
Executive Director

Here are the Congressional and Senate representatives for your area:

 
Representative Thomas MacArthur
506 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Email: Rep.macarthur@opencongress.org

Senator Cory A. Booker
359 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Email: Sen.booker@opencongress.org

Senator Robert Menendez
528 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Email: Sen.menendez@opencongress.org