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Disabled workers can be paid less than the minimum wage. Some states want to end that

Kevin Hardy, Stateline.org on

Published in News & Features

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — High-fives, fist-bumps and hugs come with the ice cream at the Golden Scoop.

Tucked into a shopping center in suburban Kansas City, the shop employs 15 people with developmental disabilities. While customers first come for the sweet treats, many are drawn in by the Golden Scoop’s mission and friendly environment.

“It just brings you so much joy,” said Lindsay Krumbholz, who opened the shop with her sister in 2021. “We’ve even had customers that come in and say, ‘I’ve had a bad day, I just had to come to the Golden Scoop.’”

The nonprofit shop could have sought federal approval to pay workers below the $7.25 federal minimum wage. But each of the store’s “Super Scoopers” earns at least $15 per hour plus tips.

They include 32-year-old Jack Murphy, whom customers know by his nickname of “Mayor.” He enjoys connecting with them, the managers and the job coaches who support him during his shifts.

“I love coming to work,” he said. “If I wasn’t working, I would be crying.”

 

Everything at the Golden Scoop was designed to set workers up for success: The menu has been pared down for simplicity. Employees pre-scoop and package the ice cream to streamline service. Binders with big pictures show step-by-step directions on mixing batches of ice cream. And baked goods are prepared elsewhere.

“They provide customized employment. They’re providing the right accommodations for individuals that work there in order to succeed,” Sara Hart Weir, executive director of the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities, said of the shop’s managers.

Weir, who also serves on the board of the Golden Scoop, hopes to see more Kansas employers follow the ice cream shop’s model after a state law this year provided grant money for organizations to pay workers with disabilities above minimum wage. The law, for the first time, also made a special tax credit available only to employers paying at least minimum wage.

Since 1938, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, federal law has allowed some employers to pay people considered less productive because of a physical or mental disability well below the federal minimum wage. While the law was originally intended to provide opportunities for those with little access to work, policymakers in a growing number of states are trying to move away from the practice.

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