Local Community Action directors are hailing a bill that could come before the House of Representatives for a vote as soon as Thursday. The bill would increase minimum wage in the state by $1. It will be heard by the House Labor Committee this Tuesday. Larry Berman, Communications Director of the Rhode Island House of Representatives said Monday it could come before the full House on Thursday.
By a 30-6 vote the Rhode Island Senate approved the bill Wednesday. Last year, a similar bill died in the House where it never came up for a vote.
The bill was introduced by Senator Erin Lynch Prata of District 31. Prata Lynch said in a press release, "As the costs of daily life continue to increase, we must not forget those who are on the bottom of the economic ladder. There is still much more work to be done to address this issue, but this minimum wage increase is a good first step to ensuring that Rhode Islanders have a roof over their heads and food on the table for themselves and their families.”
Joanne McGunagle, executive director of Comprehensive Community Action, said that her organization has been fighting for this for a long time.
“More money solves a lot of problems,” McGunagle said. “It’s a wonderful thing.”
Paul Salera, CEO/president of Westbay Community Action, said that 60 to 70 percent of his clients are working on minimum wage. He added that even just a $1 increase could amount to about $2,000 more in annual income – which he said could alleviate some of the stressors for those living week-to-week.
“For us, I think it’s great,” Salera said. “Our clients will benefit.”
A concern is that an increase in the minimum wage could impact assistance funds. Salera said a higher annual wage could disqualify some people from benefits, but hopes that the state would understand and increase the threshold on state-funded aid.
McGunagle acknowledged that there is an issue with Federal Government restrictions on benefits for people in the state.
“That is the real problem here and a small increase to minimum wage would not compare to what they are currently proposing. When looking at the interaction of job and benefits, the benefits need to be adjusted as well.”
The Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce was not available for comment, but Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Liz Catucci said on behalf of the Northern Chamber that the push comes in part from activity in nearby states.
“Other states are higher than Rhode Island so the proponents of a minimum wage increase try to advocate for matching surrounding states,” Catucci said.
The Chamber also recognized that there would be changes to business owners with minimum wage workers, saying, “This will increase the labor costs, including workers compensation insurance premiums, unemployment insurance and FICA.”
If enacted, the legislation would take effect Oct. 1.