HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Lawmakers are considering a major coronavirus relief package that includes raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour through a phased approach. Pennsylvania leaders disagree on whether that would help or hurt those who are struggling.
On Monday, Senator Bob Casey, Congressman Conor Lamb, and Congressman Dwight Evans were part of a zoom call advocating for the raise.
“It’s long overdue. We should get it done and get it done now,” Casey said.
The minimum wage in Pennsylvania currently sits at $7.25, equivalent to the federal minimum wage that was set in 2009.
Gov. Wolf proposed an increase in the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour starting July 1, 2021, and a $.50 increase every year until reaching $15 per hour on July 1, 2027.
“Give people a raise. They earned it, they worked for it. It’s a part about valuing workers,” Evans said.
Gene Barr, the President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, says the move couldn’t come at a worse time for business owners.
“This would have tremendous adverse impacts likely at a time when we’re just coming out of this pandemic and many small businesses are literally struggling to survive,” Barr said.
Many Democratic lawmakers say now is exactly the right time to give a raise to the essential workers who’ve been on the frontlines during this pandemic.
“Someone taking that level of risk and showing that level of service to people in their community, that we would tolerate them making less than $15 an hour, which is less than $31,000 a year, to me is intolerable,” Lamb said.
Scranton nurse Barbara Coleman is an advocate of raising the minimum wage. She joined in on Monday’s call with the Democratic lawmakers.
“Right now essential workers need 2 or 3 jobs just to survive. Never mind putting meat and potatoes on the table, we can’t even afford the plate right now,” Coleman said.
Republican lawmaker Congressman Fred Keller says raising the minimum wage to $15 wouldn’t actually help those who are struggling.
“What is the goal to raising the minimum wage? If that is to give someone more buying powers, keep in mind that the price of goods and services is going to increase and they’re likely going to end up at the same spot they are now,” Keller said.
Opponents of the idea think the raise just isn’t worth the cost.
“Some people will be lifted out of poverty, some people will be put into poverty, and some people will never have the chance to advance out of poverty. So you’re really picking winners and losers by going to $15 an hour,” Barr said.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the coronavirus relief bill this week.