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Why businesses get away with paying pennies to employees with disabilities

By Sara Luterman

March 16, 2020

As we head into the endgame of the Democratic primary, it may not seem like the remaining candidates have very much in common. Former Vice President Joe Biden has campaigned for a return to the comfort and normalcy of the Obama era, while Sen. Bernie Sanders is asking for a revolution and fundamental changes to how American government functions. And yet there are a handful of issues upon which they agree, not only with each other, but with a surprising number of not-at-all-moderate Republicans. One of those shared issues: Ending below-minimum wage for people with disabilities.

Under a little-known regulation called 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, businesses can apply for permits to pay disabled employees well below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That amount can dip down to mere pennies in some cases. In one particularly galling story from a 2012 report from the National Council on Disability, an Ohio woman who had promised to take her family out to dinner with her first paycheck was sad and surprised to find out she had only earned 38 cents for the entire pay period.

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