Jeff Kosseff, Bryan Denson and Les Zaitz of The Oregonian used hundreds of interviews, thousands of pages of documents and visits to more than a dozen charities in seven states to show that a program created to benefit
Americans with severe disabilities is being exploited at the cost of the people it was supposed to help. The program was started so federal agencies could reserve contracts for small nonprofit workshops that hired epileptics, paraplegics and the mentally retarded to make simple products such as mousetraps, blackboards and first-aid kits, thus helping the disabled gain a paycheck. "More than three decades later, the nonprofits increasingly are hiring workers who are mildly disabled, if at all, with aching backs, substance-abuse problems and other maladies common in the American workplace." This new class of federally subsidized worker is getting the highest-paid jobs, while many of the most severely disabled toil for pennies an hour. Their bosses are benefiting handsomely, with at least a dozen earning $350,000 or more a year, and average pay and benefits for some top executives have grown more than three times faster than their workers' pay.