John and Mark X Cronin, the co-founders of John's Crazy Socks, spent Wednesday on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress and their staff to advocate for the economic rights of people with differing abilities. They were part of a group of leaders from the CEO Commission on Disability Employment that addressed issues including the sub-minimum wage and the marriage penalty faced by working people with a disability.
“I want my voice to be heard and I want to speak up for people like me, people with differing abilities,” said John Cronin. John is an entrepreneur who has Down syndrome.
Mark X. Cronin said, “Our business has given us a platform and people will listen. That creates an obligation for us to speak up. And we can speak not only as a family with a person with a disability, but as a business where more than half of our colleagues have a differing ability.”
The CEO Commission leadership posted a note for John and Mark, “Your partnership to the CEO Commission for Disability Employment is as invaluable as your advocacy on the hill!”
Meeting with Members of Congress
John and Mark met with Senator Steve Daines from Montana and his staff, Congressman Don Beyer from Virginia and his staff, and staff from the office of Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. Throughout the day, they were joined by leaders from other members of the CEO Commission including the founding members: Voya Financial, the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). Other Commission members that joined the conversations on the Hill that day included Melwood, Rangam, Stakes Manufacturing, Equitable, Spectrum Design and the Harkin Institute.
“We do not ask if you are a Republican or Democrat,” said John, “We only want to talk about making the world better for people with differing abilities. That is something we can all agree on.”
Advocating for More Employment of People with a Disability
The United States faces a growing labor shortage. We hear all the time from employers who bemoan that they cannot find enough good workers. At the same time, 20 million Americans with a disability are ready, willing and able to work. We need to bring these groups together. Hiring people with differing abilities has become a national necessity. It is part of the solution for our labor crisis.
At John's Crazy Socks, more than half of our colleagues have a differing ability. We do not face a labor shortage as we are readily able to fill every open position. Hiring people with differing abilities leads to better morale, greater productivity, greater retention and it helps us recruit. It gives us a competitive advantage. John and Mark have recorded a TEDx Talk where they make the argument that hiring people with differing abilities is not altruism, it is good business.
We share our experiences with other employers and with policymakers. The trip that John and Mark made to Capitol Hill was part of our ongoing efforts to promote greater employment for people with differing abilities. Part of that effort means advocating for people with disabilities to be able to hold on to more of their hard-earned wages.
John Persuades with His Charm and Experience
Legislators love to meet with John Cronin. They love to hear the story of how John and his father created John's Crazy Socks, the world's largest sock store. They like to take photographs with John. Members of Congress often face long, grueling days, they take comfort in John’s smile. John is truly spreading happiness when he meets with legislators. This makes John an effective spokesperson for people with differing abilities.
Senator Daines greeted John with great enthusiasm and shared how his office staff are fans of John's Crazy Socks. His ex-chief of staff has a son with Down syndrome. John and the Senator made a quick video to send to that young man. And Senator Daines asked John for his autograph. This greeting set the tone for a productive discussion about the economic challenges that people with differing abilities face. Senator Daines is already a co-sponsor of the bill to eliminate the subminimum wage that will bring fair pay to thousands of Americans with a disability.
Advocating on Four Key Legislative Issues
During their day on Capitol Hill, the Cronin’s addressed four key issues:
- Eliminating the Subminimum Wage: The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 allows employers to receive a permit to pay people with a disability less than minimum wage. These are known as 14(c) certificates. The National Council on Disability found that 141,081 people were paid under 14(c) certificates in 2018, some are paid as little as $0.03 per hour. The Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act (H.R. 1263/S. 533) would phase out 14(c) certificates and provide funding to transition people with disabilities into competitive, integrated employment.
- Raising the Asset Level for SSI and Eliminating the Marriage Penalty: A person receiving SSI can only have $2,000 in assets. If they go over that level, they lose their benefits. A married couple can only have $3,000 in benefits, meaning the rules impose a penalty and disincentive to get married. These asset levels have not changed in many years and make it impossible for working people with a disability to save any money. We ask members of Congress to raise the asset level to $10,000 and $20,000 for a married couple.
- Allowing Pre-Tax Contributions for ABLE Accounts: Employees can work with their employer to make pre-tax contributions to a 401K. ABLE accounts are special savings accounts that people with a disability can have. We simply want equity so that employees can make pre-tax contributions to their ABLE accounts just like their peers can do with 401K accounts. Not only would the government not incur a cost for this change but the Congressional Budget Office estimates that because people would be able to work more hours and the government would actually see an increase in revenue.
- Increased Incentives for Employers to Hire People with Differing Abilities:The federal government offers tax credits to employers that hire people with differing abilities. There is money available both to hire and employ people as well as to pay for job accommodations. Those incentives total $2,000 per employee. This amount has not changed in many years. At the same time, similar programs for other populations are much higher. For example, similar programs for veterans total $9,000. We applaud the incentives for veterans and would like to see parity for people with differing abilities.
Everyone Deserves a Fair Wage
At John’s Crazy Socks, more than half our colleagues have a differing ability, what some would call a disability. Every person receives a fair wage. Be clear, we run a business, not a charity. We do not give out jobs, everyone here has earned their job. Everyone here produces and plays an important role in fulfilling our mission to spread happiness. It would be unthinkable to segregate our colleagues and pay them less simply because they have a disability.
About John’s Crazy Socks
John’s Crazy Socks was inspired by John Lee Cronin, a young man with Down syndrome, and his love of colorful and fun socks—what he calls his “crazy socks.” He and his father, Mark X. Cronin, started the company as a social enterprise with a mission of Spreading Happiness™. With more than 4,000 socks, John’s Crazy Socks is now the world’s largest sock store. More than half their employees have a differing ability, and their Giving Back program has raised over $625,000 for charity partners like the Special Olympics, the National Down Syndrome Society, and the Autism Society of America. Most of all, they are Spreading Happiness™.
For more information about John’s Crazy Socks, visit our webpage, Facebook page, Instagram account, TikTok or YouTube channel. You can also contact us at 631-760-5625 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.