Congressman Gregg Harper's 24-year-old son, Livingston, has an intellectual disability called Fragile X syndrome. His family has always reminded him of the following truth.
"If you have special needs, you're no different than everybody else," explained Harper. "And you can do great things. You can do important things and you don't put a limitation on that."
A federal law says otherwise. One provision can be a roadblock for disabled workers, regardless of how much family support they have.
"We under the law, a 1938 law, allow workers to be paid a sub-minimum wage, sometimes cents on the hour to do work," said Harper.
Here's how it works. If they want, employers can apply for special wage certificates. Those certificates allow them to legally pay workers with disabilities less money.
"What happens is you have guaranteed a cycle of poverty for these workers who will always be dependent upon the government," Harper described. "Yet some of the executives are paid $4,000 to $5,000 a year in compensation."
Harper wants to see that part of the law phased out. He's now introduced the Fair Wages for Workers With Disabilities Act. He calls the current law a form of wage discrimination.
"It never recognizes that these who are disabled can do real work and that they should be able to be in a situation to earn a livable wage," he said.
Meanwhile, the congressman is preparing to watch Livingston graduate from a special program at Mississippi State University. The family doesn't want him to ever have to deal with different wages when he gets into the working world post-grad.
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