Harrisburg – – Senator Bob Mensch (R-24) and Senator Sean Wiley (D-49) announced the introduction of their “Employment First Act” legislation, Senate Bill 1199, which will promote the employment of people with disabilities at competitive wages in Pennsylvania businesses and public agencies.
Fifty years ago, the Legislature created the MH/MR Act of 1966 to provide a system of home and community-based services for people with disabilities. One of the results was that many people with disabilities — especially those with intellectual disabilities — ended up spending their days working in segregated facilities where they are often paid wages well below the minimum wage.
“For quite some time, Pennsylvania has been talking about deinstitutionalization and home and community-based living, where people with disabilities have the opportunity to work at competitive wages in a wide range of jobs in the private and public sectors across the Commonwealth,” said Mensch. “Pennsylvania employers are dealing with a serious workforce shortage. On any given day there are more than 200,000 job vacancies are posted on the state’s official job listing. Individuals with disabilities are productive, responsible, and dependable employees that can fill these vacancies and they deserve competitive wage benefits.”
National research and pilot programs in Pennsylvania have proven that the employment of people with disabilities at competitive wages benefits both employers and persons with disabilities.
“A disability should never stand in the way of someone who wants to be a part of the workforce,” said Wiley. “Many times when people look at others with a disability, only what a person cannot do is seen, not what that person can do. Why do we focus on the disability, not the ability? The Employment First Bill focuses on the abilities in us all.”
Senators Mensch and Wiley underlined that the legislation will not require additional state spending. Instead, it will require state agencies to shift priorities within existing budgets.
The legislation is also consistent with recent changes in federal law governing vocational rehabilitation services and workforce development programs, as well as federal regulations governing services to people with intellectual disabilities.
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