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Ad­vo­cates press Congress hard on a $15 min­i­mum wage in re­lief bill.

- Michael Collins US Elections · U.S. News · US Politics · Society · Politics · Infectious Diseases · Health Conditions · Washington · West Virginia · Virginia · United States of America · Joe Biden · Republican Party (United States) · Democratic Party (United States) · United States Senate · Kyrsten Sinema · Arizona · Congressional Budget Office · Barack Obama · Service Employees International Union · Fayette County · Joe Manchin · Progressive Policy Institute · Executive Office of the President of the United States · Mary Kay · William Barber II

WASH­ING­TON – Pam Garrison worked much of her life in low-pay­ing re­tail jobs, earn­ing wages so pal­try that they barely cov­ered even the most ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties such as food and shel­ter.

“We don’t live – we sur­vive,” Garrison, a re­tiree from Fayette County, West Vir­ginia, said of min­i­mum-wage work­ers. “And that’s not good enough in Amer­ica.”

Garrison and other pro­po­nents of rais­ing the fed­eral min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour are pres­sur­ing Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and Congress to boost the hourly pay scale as part of a $1.9 tril­lion pack­age aimed at pro­vid­ing re­lief to Amer­i­cans re­cov­er­ing from the fall­out of the coron­avirus pan­demic.

Ad­vo­cacy groups con­sider the re­lief pack­age their best – and pos­si­bly only – chance to raise the min­i­mum wage to $15.

Prospects ap­pear bleak.

Bi­den has con­ceded the in­crease is likely to be stripped from his COVID-19 re­lief pack­age be­cause of op­po­si­tion among Repub­li­cans and at least two Se­nate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Ari­zona.

If the min­i­mum wage doesn’t sur­vive that leg­is­la­tion, Bi­den said, he’s open to pur­su­ing the pay in­crease through a sep­a­rate piece of leg­is­la­tion. That would be an even big­ger hur­dle be­cause 60 votes would be needed in the Se­nate to over­come a fil­i­buster – a nearly im­pos­si­ble thresh­old to cross given the Se­nate’s 50-50 par­ti­san split.

“It doesn’t look like there’s a path to get to $15 an hour,” ac­knowl­edged Will Mar­shall, pres­i­dent of the Pro­gres­sive Pol­icy In­sti­tute, a non­profit think tank

based in Wash­ing­ton.

Ac­tivists are writ­ing, tex­ting and call­ing sen­a­tors, de­mand­ing that the wage in­crease re­main in the re­lief bill.

“We are des­per­ate,” said Garrison, 61, with the West Vir­ginia Poor Peo­ple’s Cam­paign. “We are not tak­ing no. We are de­mand­ing $15.”

‘There’s more more ur­gency’

The $15 min­i­mum wage is by far the most con­tentious part of Bi­den’s COVID-19 re­lief pack­age. Op­po­nents ar­gue rais­ing the min­i­mum wage would hurt the low-wage work­ers it’s in­tended to help be­cause busi­nesses would cut jobs to com­pen­sate for the higher la­bor costs.

A Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice re­port re­leased this month es­ti­mated that rais­ing the min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour would boost the pay for as many as 27 mil­lion Amer­i­cans but could re­sult in the loss of as many as 1.4 mil­lion jobs.

Congress hasn’t raised the fed­eral min­i­mum wage – $7.25 an hour – since 2007, though polls show Amer­i­cans over­whelm­ingly fa­vor an in­crease. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama called on Congress to boost the min­i­mum wage in 2014, but the ef­fort went nowhere. The House voted in 2019 to raise the min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour, only to see the Se­nate kill the pro­posal.

Bi­den promised re­peat­edly to raise the min­i­mum wage to $15 dur­ing last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and in­cluded the in­crease in the Amer­i­can Re­cov­ery Act. The White House said he re­mains com­mit­ted to pass­ing the pay in­crease even it is re­moved from the COVID-19 bill.

“Pres­i­dent Bi­den has been con­sis­tent in pri­vate and pub­lic about his com­mit­ment to raise the min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour, which is why he in­cluded it in his first ma­jor piece of leg­is­la­tion,” White House spokesper­son Mike Gwin said. “That com­mit­ment will re­main un­shaken.”

Ad­vo­cacy groups for low-in­come Amer­i­cans in­sist the COVID-19 re­lief bill is the ap­pro­pri­ate ve­hi­cle to raise the min­i­mum wage.

“There’s more ur­gency to act now dur­ing the pan­demic to raise wages,” said Mary Kay Henry, pres­i­dent of the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union.

Many min­i­mum-wage earn­ers are peo­ple of color who are es­sen­tial work­ers fight­ing the coron­avirus pan­demic, she said.

African Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos are dy­ing of COVID-19 at much higher rates than white Amer­i­cans and have been hit hard by job losses dur­ing the pan­demic, stud­ies have shown.

“They’ve been feed­ing us, car­ing for us, serv­ing us, de­liv­er­ing things for us,” Henry said. “And they’ve been risk­ing their lives with­out proper per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment and with­out the wages in their pock­ets that al­low them to stay safely home if they get in­fected.”

Work­ers who earn less than a liv­ing wage have been among the first to put their lives on the line dur­ing the pan­demic, said the Rev. Wil­liam Bar­ber, cochair of the Poor Peo­ple’s Cam­paign.

“They’ve been the first to have to go to work, the first to get sick, the first to die,” Bar­ber said. “There’s no such thing as COVID re­lief that does not ad­dress the eco­nomic dis­par­ity that COVID has ex­posed.”

Bud­get rec­on­cil­i­a­tion

Rais­ing the min­i­mum wage through the COVID-19 bill “would give us the best shot by far to ac­tu­ally get it done,” Demo­cratic strate­gist Josh Sch­w­erin said.

Se­nate Democrats plan to push the leg­is­la­tion through a pro­ce­dure called bud­get rec­on­cil­i­a­tion that will al­low them to pass the bill with a sim­ple ma­jor­ity, or 51 votes. Un­der Se­nate rules, leg­is­la­tion that falls un­der the bud­getary pro­vi­sion can’t in­clude “ex­tra­ne­ous mat­ter,” rais­ing doubts about whether the min­i­mum wage in­crease will sur­vive. The fi­nal de­ci­sion will rest with the Se­nate par­lia­men­tar­ian, who will rule whether the wage pro­posal can stay in the pack­age.

If the min­i­mum wage is stripped from the COVID-19 pack­age and pur­sued as a sep­a­rate piece of leg­is­la­tion, Repub­li­cans would al­most cer­tainly fil­i­buster the bill, which would mean Democrats would need at least 60 votes to pass it.

“Get­ting to 60 votes in the Se­nate is a steep climb for any­thing, let alone a pol­icy that Repub­li­cans and their rich donors have blocked for more than a decade,” Sch­w­erin said.

Sup­port­ers of a $15 min­i­mum wage aren’t back­ing down. “There’s no mid­dle ground on this,” Bar­ber said. “It’s about peo­ple’s lives. It’s about what is right.”

 ?? THINKSTOCK ?? De­spite the odds, pro­po­nents of a $15 min­i­mum wage aren't ready to give up the fight.
THINKSTOCK De­spite the odds, pro­po­nents of a $15 min­i­mum wage aren't ready to give up the fight.

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