PA General Assembly Under Some Pressure to Act on Minimum Wage

By John Finnerty
New Castle News

June 18, 2019 – HARRISBURG – The state’s secretary of Human Services on Monday called on the Legislature to boost the minimum wage, noting that child care workers and direct-care workers who serve seniors and the disabled make so little many of them are enrolled in public assistance programs, themselves.

Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller said that she depends on quality child care for her 3-year-old daughter and she knows that some of the people who take of her child while she works are enrolled in safety net programs her department oversees.

“No one who works full-time should have to go hungry so their kids can eat,” Miller said in a Monday afternoon rally at the state Capitol.

The average pay for a day care worker in Pennsylvania is $9.71 an hour, she said. Direct care workers make about $11 an hour.

In both cases, about half of the workers in those positions are receiving public assistance of some kind.

Miller said that the state’s low minimum wage – Pennsylvania uses $7.25, the rate set by the federal government, while every surrounding state has moved to a higher minimum wage – creates a “system built on inequities” that shame workers who must turn to safety net programs “for circumstances they can’t control.”

Gov. Tom Wolf has called for a move to $12 and hour with target of reaching $15 an hour by 2025.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated last August that there were about 106,000 people making minimum wage in Pennsylvania, about 3.1 percent of the hourly paid workers in the state.

A report by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a labor-linked think tank, estimated that moving to $15 an hour would lead to wage increases for 2 million Pennsylvania workers.

Legislation to increase the minimum wage has not moved in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said Monday that Republicans have been willing to discuss a minimum wage hike and negotiations about what one might look like are still continuing as the state works toward a June 30 deadline to pass a new state budget.

“The Senate continues to take steps that will enhance Pennsylvania’s environment for creating family-sustaining jobs while developing the workforce to fill those jobs,” Corman said in a statement provided by his office. “I said in March that I was open to a discussion to consider changing the minimum wage. We are continuing to have that discussion so we can get to a place where all parties agree.”

Republican House members interviewed for this story said they are opposed to a minimum wage hike, but at least one said he’s bracing for a minimum wage increase to be included in the budget proposal now being negotiated by legislative leaders and the governor.

State Rep. Tedd Nesbit, R-Mercer County, said he thinks the minimum wage will be part of the budget, but he thinks the move will have negative unintended consequences.

“At the end of the day, it could hurt the people it’s supposed to help,” he said.

Businesses that depend on workers who make not much more than minimum wage may struggle to find workers if the minimum wage goes up and workers decide there are other ways to make the same pay, he said. Nursing home operators have told him they are worried about finding workers, Nesbit said.

State Rep. Aaron Bernstine, R-Lawrence County, said he doesn’t think a minimum wage hike is in the office.

“To me, it’s not even on the table,” Bernstine said.

He said that increasing the minimum wage will hurt small businesses.

Rather than increasing the minimum wage, lawmakers should focus on helping create jobs that pay far better than the minimum allowed by law, he said.

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