Press Release February 16, 2023


Press Release

Statement about Rep. Sean Tarwater’s controversial comments that people
with disabilities “Really Can’t Do Anything” and that without Workshops,
people with disabilities “will rot at home. There is no place for them to go.”

February 16, 2023

Rocky Nichols, Executive Director of the Disability Rights Center (DRC) of Kansas,
issued the following statement responding to the controversial comments from
Rep. Tarwater, Chair of the Commerce, Labor and Economic Development
The Disability Rights Center (DRC) of Kansas has been inundated with concerns
and outrage from Kansans with Intellectual / Developmental Disabilities (I/DD)
and the broader disability community who are shocked and incredibly offended
by what they describe as insensitive and hurtful comments of State
Representative Sean Tarwater about Kansans with disabilities (for the video of the
comments, see the YouTube video link and the transcribed comments at the end
of this statement). DRC Kansas is respectfully calling on Chairman Tarwater to
apologize, correct his misstatements, and back the amendment regarding subminimum wage jointly supported by both supporters and opponents of HB 2275.
My phone has been ringing off the hook from people with disabilities telling me
the Chairman’s comments were both hurtful and simply not true. They are right.
We see these inappropriate remarks as a teachable moment for everyone.
Kansans with disabilities were greatly offended when Chairman Tarwater said
people with disabilities in sheltered workshops “are people who really can’t do
anything.” That is simply not true. That old way of thinking that people with
disabilities “can’t do anything” went out of style with bell bottoms and disco
music. People with disabilities, including individuals with significant disabilities,
have amazing talents. Kansans with disabilities make substantial contributions in
our state. With the right services and supports, they can make even more
Kansans with disabilities were also particularly troubled by Chairman Tarwater’s
comments that without sheltered workshops they “will rot at home” and “there is
no place for them to go.” That’s also simply not true. The truth is Kansans with
disabilities go all over the state, and they are more independent today than they
have been at any point in the past. People with disabilities who are not in a
sheltered workship do not “rot at home.” In fact, they thrive. They are out and
about in the community. In fact, people with disabilities who work outside of
sheltered workshops get paid at least minimum wage and often a lot more.
Therefore, those who work outside of the sheltered workshop have significantly
more disposable money to go wherever they want. They are not “rotting.” The
opposite is true – they are succeeding and living the American Dream. Also, it is
untrue to say “there is no place for them to go.” In fact, those who don’t work in
sheltered workshops have more resources and opportunities because of their
higher incomes. Many people with disabilities tell us that they feel like they are
wasting their talents when they are working in a sheltered workshop, often for
pennies an hour. In fact, they tell us that they feel trapped or stuck in the
sheltered workshop that pays them less than minimum wage, even though many
of those same workshops have lucrative contracts with businesses.
Additionally, there are many Kansans with disabilities who do work in sheltered
workshop who also have jobs in the community where they make above
minimum wage. If anything, these Kansans need more help and accommodations
so they can either work more hours in the community or work exclusively in the
community, making minimum wage or higher. Doing that will bring in more tax
dollars because people with disabilities will earn more. Unfortunately, too many
of them also have legitimate complaints that they feel like they have to work in a
sheltered workshop in addition to their community job simply because of a lack of
transportation and other services/supports.
Representative Tarwater made his comments when the Committee he Chairs
(Commerce, Labor and Economic Development) worked HB 2275, which as
proposed, would for the first time would allow sheltered workshops that pay
people with disabilities less than minimum wage to benefit from an existing state
tax credit program. Interestingly, both proponents and opponents of HB 2275
agreed on an amendment to the bill to not allow sheltered workshops that pay
less than minimum wage to benefit from these tax credits. In spite of that
compromise and agreement to amend the bill from both sides, Chairman
Tarwater was the only member to speak against the amendment. Moments after
he spoke, the amendment failed in his Committee.
The practice of paying people with disabilities less than minimum wage is a relic
of the distant past that many states have moved away from or banned entirely.
This practice was started during the administration of former President Franklin
D. Roosevelt. It is the past. Competitive and integrated employment is the
future. The number of entities nationwide paying less than minimum wage has
steadily and significantly shrunk over the past several years. The same is true in
Kansas, which is rapidly moving away from paying less than minimum wage to
people with disabilities. In the last few years alone, Kansas has experienced a
40% reduction in the number of entities paying people with disabilities less than
minimum wage (also known as holding a “sub-minimum wage 14c certificate”). In
2019 there were 38 Kansas entities with a sub-minimum wage certificate. Today
there are only 23 sub-minimum wage certificates statewide. Only a small handful
of the over 100 I/DD providers still engage in the practice of paying people with
disabilities less than minimum wage.
DRC Kansas also wants to note that Chairman Tarwater’s district is entirely within
Johnson County. Johnson County Developmental Services (JCDS) is the largest
I/DD provider in Johnson County and a leader in this field. JCDS has followed the
national trend and has eliminated the practice of paying people with disabilities
less than minimum wage. We commend JCDS and the vast majority of Kansas
I/DD providers for individually doing away with sub-minimum wage in their
DRC Kansas is respectfully asking Chairman Tarwater to apologize and correct his
mistatements. It would also be helpful if he would support the amendment
agreed to by both supporters and opponents of HB 2275, which ensures these tax
credits will go to entities that pay people at least minimum wage.
Additionally, DRC Kansas strongly supports bipartisan efforts at the federal level
to phase out paying people with disabilities less than minimum wage (known as
the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act – TCIEA).
We hope Chairman Tarwter can correct his comments. We also welcome the
opportunity to get back to working on what is needed to create good-paying jobs
in the community for people with disabilities instead of focusing on what we
don’t want as a disability community.
Transcribed Remarks by Chairman Tarwater on People with Disabilities and
Sheltered Workshops:
“In the past I have warned conferees about dragging these work shelter
programs [sheltered workshops] through the mud but they came up here
and did anyway.”
“These shelters do perform a good function for these disabilitied [sic]
individuals. They [the people with disabilities] are people who really
can’t do anything. And if you do away with programs like that, they
[people with disabilities] will rot at home. There is no place for them to
go. They’re taken care of. They’re fed. They have a place to go and be
functionable [sic] and they’re happy. But when we come up here and
we start dragging them [sheltered workshops] through the mud, I don’t
support this amendment because I think we need to support those

The video & audio of Chairman Tarwater’s comments are at:

Press Release February 16, 2023