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Like Millions Of Careers, Workforce Investment Act Remains Stalled

If you've been waiting for Congress to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, you're just going to have to keep waiting.

In June, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) filed a bill to update the WIA for the first time since 1998. Murray's bill would essentially modernize job training and offer companies incentives to hire new workers.

The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was supposed to hold a hearing on the bill last Wednesday, but the hearing was abruptly canceled and it's not clear when the bill will see the light of day again:
Meanwhile, the future of the Workforce Investment Act is murkier without any clear timeline to move forward.

This comes as disagreement persists over a provision of the bill that would regulate when people with disabilities could work for less than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.

Some disability advocacy groups — including the National Down Syndrome Society and the National Federation of the Blind — are pressing hard for the proposal to be removed, suggesting that it would encourage more people with disabilities to be employed at so-called subminimum wage.

The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, among other things, set a minimum wage for every American worker except the disabled, whom employers could continue to pay at sub-minimum wage levels. Hey, it was 1938 and attitudes toward the disabled weren't exactly enlightened, okay? But skip ahead to today, where disabled workers can still be paid sub-minimum wages that tend to hover around 85% of federal minimum wage -- a trainee's wage -- and employers can continue to pay the disabled lower than minimum wage if they get a special wage certificate from the Department of Labor.

Critics contend the reauthorization bill essentially maintains the FLSA's old language regarding sub-minimum wages for the disabled, and advocacy groups want progress for disabled Americans who are enduring an unemployment rate that hit record highs in June. Here's what the National Federation of the Blind has to say about the reauthorization bill:
"Language endorsing the antiquated practice of paying the blind and other workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage, which is based on the fallacious premise that disabled workers cannot be productive and do the same work as their non-disabled peers, has no place in legislation designed to increase competitive work opportunities for workers with disabilities," said Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind. "We believe that this language, in effect if not by design, is a Trojan Horse provision that will inevitably lead to the placing of workers with disabilities in subminimum-wage sweatshops. We demand that the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee either amend this bill to remove Title V, Section 511, or simply vote down the entire bill."

Advocates for the disabled held organized informational protests here, there and everywhere on July 26 but no one was paying attention.

So if you're sitting around wondering why we don't have any new jobs legislation on the horizon in the form of a reauthorized Workforce Investment Act, it's in part because people on Capitol Hill are still arguing in 2011 whether or not the disabled should be paid the same minimum wage as the rest of us.

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