Minimum wage increase debated; advocates lobby for $15 an hour

WEYBRIDGE — The subject of raising the minimum wage has always generated a lot of debate in the Vermont Statehouse; and it prompted a good deal of conversation at Monday’s legislative breakfast at the Weybridge Congregational Church. 
Advocates tout the benefits of higher pay for the state’s lowest wage earners, while opponents decry the potential impact on small businesses that can’t afford the expense. 
Bill H.302 — currently within the jurisdiction of the House Committee on General, Housing & Military Affairs — calls for raising the state’s minimum wage from the current $10.50 per hour to $15 per hour by 2026. Lawmakers aren’t sure if the bill will make it to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk by the end of this session.
At Monday’s legislative breakfast, Weybridge resident Fran Putnam said a $15 minimum wage would still not add up to the $15.76-per-hour “livable wage” the Vermont Joint Fiscal Office contends is needed to allow a citizen to afford rent and pay other bills without having to rely on public assistance.
“Most minimum wage earners are not children or teenagers,” Putnam said. “The average age of a person receiving minimum wage is 30 years old.”
Putnam suggested a $15 minimum wage would generate $250 million in new income statewide.
“People who are on that wage go out and spend the money, they don’t save it or take it out of state,” she said. “So that would generate income for the state of Vermont, as well as taxes.”
A higher minimum wage, according to Putnam, would relieve state and federal government — that is, taxpayers — from having to subsidize child care, 3SquaresVT food assistance, and other programs for those in need.
She acknowledged a sizable bump in the minimum wage would increase costs for business owners and therefore products, but Putnam believes it would be worth it.
“I personally would be willing to pay a little bit more for my goods and services if the rest of Vermonters get a livable wage,” Putnam said.
Rep. Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol, is a member of the Vermont Child Poverty Council, a legislative panel that studies and recommends ways of improving economic conditions for children. He said it’s time for lawmakers to go beyond simply financial aid for low-income Vermonters. He is a supporter of the earned income tax credit as a way of returning funds to lower wage earners.
“Is it our responsibility in government to make poverty more comfortable, or is it our job to help people find pathways  out of poverty?” Sharpe said. “Pathways out of poverty is secure housing, good wages and a good education. To me, that’s where we should be putting our investments.” 
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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