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A wage debate 

The discussion about sub-minimum wage is politically charged and complex

Thank you for highlighting the complex issue of the employment needs of adults with developmental disabilities in your cover story ("Equal chances," Feb. 7). PathPoint has been helping low-income people prepare for and obtain jobs for more than 50 years and currently supports nearly 2,000 people with developmental disabilities in five counties, including San Luis Obispo.

We are pleased that New Times highlighted Ashley Romero, an intern through PathPoint working at Cuesta College. The article also highlighted a person with concerns about us and we are working diligently to address those concerns. We appreciate and value anyone who comes forward with ways that we can improve our services.

The issue of sub-minimum wage is complex and highly charged. Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which passed in 1938, allows employers to obtain certificates from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to compensate workers with significant disabilities via a special minimum wage. The special minimum wage may be below the federal minimum wage but must be commensurate with the worker's measured productivity and the job's prevailing wage. PathPoint is a 14(c) certificate holder and has applied to DOL for the renewal of this certificate, though at the time of the article DOL had not yet reviewed PathPoint's renewal application. Federal law allows existing 14(c) certificates to remain in effect during the renewal period, so PathPoint is fully compliant.

Many 14(c) certificate holders across America operate "workshops" and some do pay very low, as stated in the New Times article. PathPoint has never operated a workshop, and rather operates small crews of people who work at the location of local businesses. These businesses pay PathPoint as an intermediary and PathPoint pays the wages to the individual workers. PathPoint is working diligently to move each of these businesses to pay at least minimum wage for the employees. However, the reality is that some individuals are not able to work at the productivity rate of a neuro-typical person and would lose their job if a sub-minimum wage position was not available.

This is the crux of the debate on section 14(c). Are we treating people unfairly by paying a low wage or are we taking away choices and options by removing the opportunity to work for someone who could not get a minimum wage job? There are national organizations and elected officials who are passionate advocates on each side of this debate. PathPoint takes a pragmatic middle ground; let's move everyone we possibly can to a job that pays at least the minimum wage, and let's keep the opportunity for community-based sub-minimum wage jobs for those who want to work and who would otherwise be unable to do so.

PathPoint will continue to focus on helping individuals reach their life goals and helping expand competitive employment opportunities for all. In San Luis Obispo County, we are proud to work with partners such as Tri-Counties Regional Center, the Department of Rehabilitation, and local and national businesses in supporting individuals with developmental disabilities in meaningful work. Thank you for your attention to this critically important issue. Δ

April Lewallen is the vice president of PathPoint's North Central Coast Division. Reach her by emalling april.lewallen@pathpoint.org. You can write a response for publication by emailing letters@newtimesslo.com.

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