Rhode Island, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice, decided on April 8th that mentally disabled people in the workforce would be given job benefits, as well as a living wage for the work they do. Until now, mentally disabled people have been working for slave wages; that is, $.50 to$2 an hour for what their mentally able coworkers would be making on minimum wage, which is set at $7.25.
The 10-year agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and Rhode Island also provides transitional services and classes for the disabled before being hired for any possible job. The system abolished on Tuesday was a system that lasted many decades. The program that has been in place until now segregated disabled workers and placed them in “work-shelters.” These shelters and acts of segregation had perpetually isolated mentally disabled people from the community they were providing services for.
In other Rhode Island economic news, a pension settlement was rejected by the police. Pension reform, big in the state since 2011, has so far been an effort to ease the economic pressure the state has been feeling with “ballooning retirement costs of benefits.” In response, public unions have since filed a motion to sue the state. According to the Associated Press teachers, firefighters, and current police retirees have signed in agreement with the lawsuit. Due to the rejection of the pension reform settlement, the state will now become embroiled publicly with public union labors in a litigation trial, set for September 15. However, it is still possible for the two sides to deal with their dispute effectively, before the trial date that is currently on the table.
In the end, though, cutting costs could ultimately be a good idea for the state’s economy, especially with the current “workplace shelter segregation” debacle that will now give mentally disabled people job benefits and federal minimum wage. Reaction to the landmark pension reform is considerably divided, with many state leaders being skeptical and choosing to vote against such measures. If the state does come out victorious in the fall trial, though, many will be able to feel the long-term impact of such a decision.
Rhode Island’s effort to redeem violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act has so far been met with universally high praise. As the federal government wrestles with raising the minimum wage to over $10 an hour, as well as inequitable pay between women and men who perform the same job, many are shocked that finding a way to give mentally disabled people at least the federal minimum wage.
Throughout the nation, there is an estimated 450,000 people living with mental disabilities. Though these people face very serious challenges in their everyday lives, many are still able to read, write, and perfectly interact with other people in their own way. It only makes sense that they should be given a livable wage. For Rhode Island, this is a landmark victory, and will undoubtedly set a precedent for other states to follow for years to come. The reality for the state until now has left many mentally disabled people entrenched in segregated shelters for entire decades.
By Tyler Collins