Biden’s Announcement for Disabled Workers

On September 30th, President Biden declared October 2021 National Disability Employment Awareness Month. 

In this announcement, Biden references the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 and the continued marginalization of disabled Americans. Specifically it was stated, “Despite the progress our Nation has made in recent decades, people with disabilities are still too often marginalized and denied access to the American dream.  Americans with disabilities — particularly women and people of color — have faced long-standing gaps in employment, advancement, and income.”


Biden furthered by explaining that, “That is why I have issued Executive Orders to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility to bolster career paths and promote economic stability for Americans with disabilities.  I have proposed eliminating outdated, discriminatory provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act that allow employers to pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage.”

Many after reading that may have been shocked to learn that paying disabled workers below minimum wage has been legal. Here is an explanation of the legality of subminimum wage:
The Department of Labor’s website explains it as follows: “The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides for the employment of certain individuals at wage rates below the statutory minimum… included are individuals whose earning or productive capacities are impaired by a physical or mental disability, including those related to age or injury, for the work to be performed.”

The Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938, meaning this has been clear and legalized since then. 

The legality of paying a disabled person below minimum wage isn’t questionable. What some may be wondering is if it’s something that is actually happening, and it is. Goodwill was a major corporation that was revealed to have done so. 

Forbes reported in 2013 stating, “According to Labor Department documents dug up by NBC, Goodwill has paid workers in Pennsylvania as little as 22 cents, 38 cents and 41 cents an hour.” Statements from other disabled Goodwill employees in the article also said their pay ranged from $2.75 to $5.40 an hour. Goodwill would lower their wages depending on the disabled employees physical ability and time it took for them to hang garments.  

Goodwill’s statement at the time was that they were providing employment to people who wouldn’t be employed otherwise, when really these disabled employees were being exploited and paid far, far below a livable wage. With this considered, Goodwill’s executives were making 6 to 7 figures. 

Coming back to Biden’s announcement on September 30th, the president is stating that he is making a conscious effort to make these practices as illegal as they are immoral.

While this alone brings plenty of hope, there is also the reminder that much needed reform to Supplemental Security Income has been tabled in congress over the years. Supplemental Security Income, also known as SSI, are monthly checks that come from the government to the elderly and disabled. 

The Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act was brought back to congress in June and has received continual support from a few congressmen (CNBC Article covering this here). Under current SSI regulations, disabled individuals receiving SSI are given amounts that keep them below the poverty line and are in turn not allowed to have over $2,000 in their accounts at any given time. Other strict rules are within current regulations, including how a disabled individuals can/will lose their benefits if they get married. 

Biden’s announcement is an important one. Bringing light to not only disabled Americans, but also disabled women and disabled people of color, feels monumental. But it will only be truly monumental if the needed changes are made.