MONTPELIER - “Raise the Wage” legislative champions today kicked off Vermont's first-ever “minimum wage challenge” to highlight the issue of poverty wages in our state by spending a week voluntarily setting aside their salaries and living on $10.50 an hour, Vermont’s current minimum wage.
From Tuesday March 20th - 26th, as legislators prepare to take up the minimum wage bill in the House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee, 17 legislators will hold themselves to the weekly budget that tens of thousands of low wage workers in Vermont must manage year-round.
Taking the challenge include: House Majority Lead Jill Krowinski, Deputy Assistant Majority Leader Tristan Toleno, Representatives Helen Head, Mary Howard, Chip Troiano, Tom Stevens, Johanna Donovan, Jay Hooper, Diana Gonzalez, Selene Colburn, Barbara Rachelson, Susan Buckholz and Curt McCormack, Senate Majority Leader Becca Balint, and Senators Alison Clarkson and Debbie Ingram.
More than 25,000 working Vermonters eke out a living on the minimum wage today, and more than 70,000 would see much needed raises with a $15/hr minimum wage.
"Each and every day I meet people struggling to make ends meet and are working two, three, sometimes more jobs and they still can’t pay rent," said Rev. Kim Kie, of Vermont Interfaith Action, a member of the statewide Raise the Wage Coalition. "For me, making choices on a limited budget for a week reminds me that many of my neighbors do not have a choice to take part in a consciousness-raising exercise, because $10.50 an hour is their reality. Raising the minimum wage is a moral imperative. Throughout Scripture God commands us to treat workers with respect, dignity, and fairness."
Many lawmakers admitted that they would find it difficult, if impossible, to meet their budgets - and were already thinking of what they would have to give up for a week to simply meet the budget facing tens of thousands of Vermonters on a daily basis.
“Taking this challenge is a difficult thing to do – I know I won't be able to put enough gas in my car to visit my sick mother, or watch movies on cable or in the theater,” said Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, and vice chairman of House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs. “I'll pay my bills, shop carefully for food, and worry if those winter potholes will blow out a tire on my car. But I also know I will struggle like this for only a week, and not continuously, as do families who find a way to subsist on these wages.”
Along with legislators, the public can join the challenge by signing up on Rights & Democracy’s website.
“As a social worker and legislator it's important to me to put my money, (or lack of in this case), where my mouth is,” said Rep. Barbara Rachelson, D-Burlington, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and executive director of Lund. “All too often I hear from some of my colleagues that people on public assistance are on a ‘gravy train.’ While I know that not to be true from my work, I already know how eye-opening this exercise will be. I wish every legislator had to do this as part of their orientation.”
Today’s minimum wage workers who work one full-time job earn $422 a week, and take. When you subtract $227 to cover housing, legislators will have a budget of $195 to pay for food, health care, transportation, child care, and entertainment.
As part of the challenge, this is the budget that participants will be asked to follow:
- Married person living alone - $161.00
- Married person sharing housing cost w/spouse - $274.50
- Single person living alone- $147.00
- Single person sharing housing cost w/partner or roommate - $260.50
Take home pay for full time minimum wage workers averages $388 for a married person and $374 for a single person (40 hr week of earning $10.50, taking into account taxes). Subtract from that $227 (average housing cost for minimum wage workers, or $113.50 if sharing rent) and participants will have a weekly budget of between $147 and $274 to pay for food, transportation, child care, medical expenses, debts, entertainment and so on.
The Vermont Raise the Wage Coalition invites others to join these legislative champions and highlight the issue of poverty wages in our state by spending a week voluntarily setting aside their salaries and living on $10.50 an hour, Vermont’s minimum wage.
"Poverty and inequality do not exist by accident or a law of nature, but because of policies - and we can fight back against policies like this and improve the lives of our neighbors by raising the minimum wage," said Isaac Grimm, political engagement director at Rights & Democracy, a member of the Raise the Wage Coalition.
A bill that would raise the minimum wage to $15 passed by the Senate in February, and will now be taken up by the House. The Senate bill (S. 40) would provide for steady, annual increases in the minimum wage over a six-year period with the rate reaching $15 an hour in 2024.
In addition, RAD and other groups are urging Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance to be passed this session.This bill would provide workers with ways to take time off to support themselves, family members without losing wages or their jobs. That bill is currently being taken up in the Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs Committee.