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Workers With Disabilities Will Be Paid At Least Minimum Wage In New Hampshire

Ze-ev Barkan via Flickr CC

New Hampshire will likely become the first state to repeal laws allowing employers to pay workers with disabilities at a rate lower than the minimum wage.

The bill passed this week by the House not only does away with a provision allowing employers to pay people with disabilities below minimum wage in most circumstances, but it also bans so-called sheltered workshops.  That’s when an organization sets up a workplace aimed at people with disabilities.

Some proponents of sheltered workshops say they provide educational and training opportunities, but disability rights groups say workers would be better served by jobs in community settings that pay at or above the full minimum wage.

Chris Rueggeberg, policy director of the New Hampshire Council on Developmental Disabilities, says these approaches came out of the 1940s and reflected a paternalistic attitude common at the time.

“They took a philosophy that people with disabilities really couldn’t work, that the best they could do would be menial jobs, and that society and employers were really helping them by giving them anything to do,” Rueggeberg said.

A state investigation found no New Hampshire employers engaging in the practice, but a report from the National Council on Disability found as many as 420,000 such cases nationwide. Disabilities rights groups have called for an end to sub-minimum wage laws, saying they can be used to exploit workers and, in some cases, to pay them as little as $1 an hour.

The Senate has already passed the bill, and a spokesperson for Governor Maggie Hassan says she will sign it.

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