US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

In Advance of Senate Vote, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Harkin Urges Support for His Bill to Raise the Minimum Wage

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today spoke on the Senate floor before the Senate voted on whether or not to consider the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, a bill he introduced to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in three steps and to provide automatic, annual increases linked to changes in the cost of living. It would also gradually raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, which currently stands at just $2.13 an hour, to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.

“There is no question that America needs a raise. Too many people are working full time – working two or even three jobs – but are still juggling which bills to pay and falling further behind each day. My bill will give 28 million people a raise and a chance for a better future,” Harkin said. “It is time to give America a raise.  The American people are calling for us to pass this bill, and the first step is to debate it here on the Senate floor.  I hope that everyone in this Chamber will vote to move forward on this critical legislation.”

Read more about the bill here.

Chairman Harkin’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, are as follows.

“In a few minutes we will vote on whether the Senate will be allowed to move forward and debate my bill to raise the minimum wage.  In a few minutes it will be clear where each Senator stands.  Who in this chamber is going to stand with tens of millions of Americans who work full-time for a living but who are left in poverty or on the brink of poverty, struggling to make ends meet?  Who is going to vote to give these good people a fair shot at the American Dream, and who is going to vote against that?

“There is no question that America needs a raise. Too many people are working full time – working two or even three jobs – but are still juggling which bills to pay and falling further behind each day.  My bill will give 28 million people a raise and a chance for a better future.

“Families need a raise. Fourteen million children in America—that’s one in every five kids—have a parent who will get a raise.  These parents will be able to give their children a better life – to buy them the things they need, and to spend more time with them and watch them grow.

“Businesses need a raise in the minimum wage too!  Their biggest problem right now is that they don’t have enough customers with money to spend.  A vote for a raise will support these businesses by putting more money in the pockets of their customers, increasing sales and boosting the bottom line.

“Our economy needs a raise.  When businesses do better, they hire more workers, adding jobs and generating even more economic growth.

“People in poverty definitely need a raise.  My bill will lift an estimated 7 million people out of poverty.  These people deserve the dignity of being able to stand on their own two feet.  They want to work, they are working, and they deserve a job that will lift them out of poverty, not trap them in it. 

“In fact, all working families need a raise.  The middle class needs a raise.  My bill doesn’t just help the poorest of the poor.  Twelve million people who have family income between $20,000 and $60,000 a year will get a raise.   A raise will give them a fair shot at really achieving the American dream – buying a car, buying a home, sending their kids to college, or even saving a little for retirement.

“Taxpayers need a raise in the minimum wage.  When corporations pay so little that their workers have to rely on public benefits, it is we the taxpayers who pay to make sure that our neighbors can eat, heat their homes, see a doctor, and have all the other basic necessities of life. 

“I don’t think any of us begrudge our friends and neighbors the basics they need to survive, but we do resent enormously profitable corporations today that are shirking their moral duty – padding their own profits while paying their workers too little to support themselves.  Raising the minimum wage will mean that more people will be able to get off public assistance, saving taxpayer money.

“Finally, it is people, hardworking American people, who need a raise.  We have heard a lot of facts and figures in the debate this week, but let’s talk about a real person for a minute.

“Let’s talk about Alicia McCrary, who I was lucky enough to meet when she testified before my Committee earlier this year.  Alicia moved to Northwood, Iowa a couple of years ago to start a new life with her family after experiencing domestic violence.  She is working at a fast food restaurant, making $7.65 an hour. Alicia has four boys whom she loves more than anything. 

“She is an amazing woman, and she is working so hard, trying to support her boys, but she faces so many obstacles.  She rides a bus 20 miles each way, every day, to get to work. She wants to work full-time, but the bus—which costs her $10 a day— only runs until 3 pm, so she has to leave by then. 

“Alicia’s wages are so low, that every day she has to tell her children they can’t have opportunities that their friends have, to play the sport they want or even to all get a haircut or buy a pair of shoes in the same month. She simply can’t afford it.

“Alicia does not want to be on public assistance, but she has to be.  She is participating in a program run by the North Iowa Community Action Agency to help her achieve self-sufficiency and get off the system because she wants to support herself through her own work.  Here is what Alicia says:

‘If the minimum wage is increased . . . it would be very helpful to my family. I would see … reductions in TANF and food assistance and would see [an] increase in my rent, but that would be okay, I will have more money overall and it would come from my own hard work and my family will be better off. . . . I want to work and stand on my own two feet… I work very hard doing my job and I believe I am worth ten dollars and 10 cents an hour…. If you can move forward with increasing the minimum wage, my family will be more successful in reaching our goal of a better life.’

“Having met Alicia, I can tell you she deserves that chance.  She deserves a better life.  She deserves a raise. 

“I have listened to a lot of the debate here on the Senate floor.  I have heard a lot of objections to raising the minimum wage from my friends on the other side of the aisle.  But what I haven’t heard them offer is one single solution that will help make Alicia’s life better. 

“I have heard a lot of talk about the Keystone Pipeline and the high-paying jobs it could create.  But unless Alicia plans to move her four kids to Texas and become a petroleum engineer, that’s not really going to help her, now, is it?  The Keystone Pipeline isn’t going to help Alicia – a fast-food worker who works her tail off every day.  It’s not going to help her put food on the table, get her boys a haircut, or buy them their own computer for their homework.  A minimum wage increase will do that, and much, much more.

“It is time to give Alicia a raise.  It is time to give America a raise.  The American people are calling for us to pass this bill, and the first step is to allow Senators to debate it here on the Senate floor.  I hope that everyone in this Chamber will vote to move forward on this critical legislation.”

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