By Amanda Becker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House hopeful Elizabeth Warren said on Thursday that raising the minimum hourly wage to $15 and ending a program that allow employers to pay disabled workers much less than the minimum would be among steps she would take to ensure financial security for individuals with disabilities.
Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts and one of 14 candidates vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination to take on President Donald Trump in November 2020, detailed the proposals as part of a larger plan to protect individuals with disabilities.
“Though we have made significant progress for the 61 million Americans living with disabilities, we have a lot of ground left to cover,” Warren wrote on the online publishing platform Medium. She noted that 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a law protecting disabled individuals from discrimination.
Tom Harkin, former Democratic U.S. senator from Iowa and original sponsor of the ADA, consulted with Warren’s campaign as it developed the proposals.
Disabled adults are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as those without a disability and the unemployment rate among individuals with disabilities is more than twice the rate of others, Warren said.
As a senator, Warren has asked the Labor Department to end a program allowing employers to seek waivers to pay disabled individuals less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, sometimes as little as 33 cents. Warren said on Thursday she would end the “shameful subminimum wage” and pass a law to help disabled workers transition to more competitive employment opportunities.
Warren said she would recommit to former President Barack Obama’s goal of recruiting and hiring disabled individuals for the federal workforce, which raised to 14% the level of workers with disabilities in the federal government.
Warren also said she would change the federal government’s Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs, including eliminating the five-month waiting period for SSDI benefits after a disability determination.
Warren was to appear in New Hampshire on Thursday as the candidates resumed campaigning after the New Years holiday. They are entering a critical phase ahead of the nominating contests, which kick off in early February in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Warren remains in the top tier of candidates, along with former Vice President Joe Biden and fellow U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, but her position has slid in recent opinion polls.
(Reporting By Amanda Becker; Editing by David Gregorio)