A federal agency said Rock River Valley Self Help Enterprises improperly paid their workers with disabilities.
It comes after a U.S. Department of Labor investigation into the non-profit based in Sterling, Illinois.
Federal officials announced they’ve pulled Self Help’s certification to offer pay below minimum wage and denying the organization’s renewal.
They said Self Help failed to complete evaluations of its workers’ wages and time on the job, while also obstructing their investigation.
The Department of Labor reported the exploitation impacts 250 workers with disabilities.
They said the investigation found some workers were paid with gift cards instead of wages.
With the removal of Self Help’s certification, Labor said the non-profit must now pay workers minimum wage and back pay for the last two years.
For a Self Help employee, she said this is only part of what the do to help those with disabilities, also providing rehabilitating and day services.
Self Help employee Bobbie Jo Menz said,”To have somewhere to go, it makes their day. You know, it really, really does. That’s a really special place for them.”
Bobbie Jo Menz said she’s worked at Self Help Enterprises for more than 20 years, and it’s making sure those with disabilities have a place to go and opportunities for employees.
Menz said, “For them to come there just to say I’m going to work that makes their day.”
Menz said despite the Department of Labor announcement, it’s been business as usual, and the doors to Self Help are open for those needing their help.
But it’s also been opening up a lot of questions.
Kreider Services Executive Director Jeff Stauter said, “Everyone’s phones have kind of been ringing off the hook since last night.”
Eleven miles east in Dixon, Illinois, Kreider Services, another programs provider for people with disabilities, said they couldn’t provide a lot of answers to those calls when it relates to Self Help, but they’re trying to help the callers navigate the best they can.
Stauter said, “Key is getting in touch with your independent service coordinator and talking with them about what options are available to you. We don’t know what the outcome is going to be with Self Help.”
The calls have focused on understanding the sub-minimum wage system and potentially transferring to Kreider’s programs.
“People curious about whether we would have the capacity to take people from Self Help and what the process would be if people are looking for a new day program and new services. I think we’re just figuring that all out right now,” said Stauter.
The Kreider Executive Director said the whole process of administering sub-minimum wage takes a lot of time and energy.
Stauter said, “There’s a lot of paperwork and time studies and a lot of things you have to do very carefully and very precisely to stay within the federal guidelines, and if you lose sight of that it’s very easy to get off track with that because it is complicated.”
Self Help administration released the following statement about the decision.
Self Help has been a productive agency service the developmentally disabled workforce for 54 years. We are proud of the services that we offer and the community, family that we have created for our workforce. We are obviously disappointed in the decision made by the United States Department of Labor, disagreeing with this outcome, but will take all necessary steps to comply with the decision as we pursue our available options to have the matter duly reviewed. At this point, however, until we can meet with the full Board of Directors, with our attorneys and wage consultant, I have no further comment
Labor Department said they’d be in contact with other social service providers to help any impacted workers.