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Advocates urge hike in minimum wage

Advocates for a minimum wage hike rallied at the State Capitol, amid growing signals that there might not be a special session to deal with the issue, or any items at all this year.

The rally, organized by churches located near the State Capitol , as well as statewide religious groups,  used words like faith and morals when talking about the connection they see between the growth of people coming to food pantries and the state’s stagnant minimum wage.

The Reverend Deb Jameson operates a food pantry just one block away from where state lawmakers meet.  She says nearly half of the clients have jobs.

“No one should be trapped in poverty by low wages,” Jameson said. “If the minimum age does not cover necessities, it’s not a minimum wage. It’s a minus wage.”

Outside, around 100 people held signs and chanted on the steps of the Capitol, asking Governor Cuomo and lawmakers to raise the minimum wage in New York from the current $7.25 to $8.50.

The lawmakers are not in Albany, and haven’t been since last June.  There was talk of holding a special session in December, where agenda items might include a hike in the minimum wage, and an increase in state lawmakers’ pay. But Governor Cuomo has been preoccupied with the clean up after Hurricane Sandy, and the State Senate is in the midst of a potential leadership struggle.  Though Republicans are in charge until the end of the year, two November races are still being counted, and there’s uncertainty over who might be in control in January.  

Mark Dunlea, with Hunger Action Network, says the governor could ask the legislature to return to raise the minimum wage without having to deal with any of those other issues.

“It should be about a five minute meeting,” said Dunlea, who says a simple up or down vote could be held.  

Dunlea says polls show 80% of New Yorkers would like to see the minimum wage increased.

Rob Smith, with Interfaith Impact, agrees that a pay raise  for state  lawmakers doesn’t need to be part of the deal.

“There is no moral equivalency between the minimum wage, which effects hundreds of thousands of low paid workers in this state, and raising the wages of very affluent people,” Smith said.  

Base pay for lawmakers is $79,500 a year, which Smith says a sum that could be considered “affluent”.  Many legislators receive additional stipends of several thousand dollars for committee and leadership posts.  A 40 hour work week at the minimum wage nets $15,080 per year.

The advocates say if the special session does not occur, then they would like to see the minimum wage issue raised early in the New Year. They are also asking for $10 million more dollars in the state budget to help fund the hundreds of food pantries and soup kitchens in the state patronized by around 3 million New Yorkers.  They say there’s been an 11% increase in demand since last year.  

Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio.
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