One of our agency’s best known programs is our sheltered workshop for adults with disabilities. Operating as part of our Adult Day Services program, the workshop provides employment and vocational training to 50-60 adults every week from Monday through Friday. At the workshop our client workers are provided with the opportunity to earn a real paycheck for their efforts working on contracts the agency secures from area businesses. Most of the work is packaging, final assembly and mailers. We are careful not to bring in work that would have dangerous chemicals or pose safety risks. Many of our workers learn work skills and are able to go out and find community employment.
Earlier this year we were concerned that all of this would have to come to an end. The federal government passed a law in 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, to improve access to community jobs for persons with disabilities. There was a real concern that the regulations to enact this Act would restrict workshops from paying less than the federal minimum wage rate if disabled persons cannot produce at the level of a non-disabled worker. This would mean that if a disabled worker could only produce 10% of what a non-disabled worker can produce, they would have to paid the same wage.
Fortunately, the final regulations were released this past July and they make it clear that as long as some reasonable conditions are met, sheltered workshops can continue to operate and pay less than minimum wage when warranted. This is good news for HSS and for our client workers, some of whom have been coming to our program for over 40 years! So the future looks good for our workshop.