Local lawmakers support raising federal minimum wage to $15

Despite Congress’ inaction, minimum wage fight still looms
Posted at 2:50 PM, Feb 09, 2021

NORFOLK, Va. - Several local lawmakers support raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

"I think in America if you're working full time, you ought to be able to put food on the able and a roof over you're head. At $7.25 an hour, you can't do that," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia).

Right now, lawmakers are discussing raising the minimum wage, something Congress hasn't done since it was raised to $7.25 in 2009.

States have taken action on their own since then. Virginia is on a path to raise it gradually to $15 by 2026, so the federal proposal would get the state there faster. Minimum wage remains at $7.25 in North Carolina.

"We've got to start down that path because each year we punt we put more people into poverty," said Warner.

On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office released its findings on raising the minimum wage. They say 1.4 million jobs could be lost, but it would bring nearly a million people out of poverty and raise wages for 17 million.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), the chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, said the CBO report strengthens the argument for raising it. "This nonpartisan report shows that increasing the minimum wage will act as a direct and targeted stimulus for struggling workers and their families," he wrote in a Tweet.

Still, others are worried about the impact on businesses, including restaurants. "When they're trying to get their feet under them, I think you're going to cut their legs out and you're going to see a lot more failures," said Eric Terry, the president of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association.

The proposal has been tied to COVID-19 relief, but it remains unclear whether it can advance that way with enough support.

A stand-alone bill, called the Raise the Wage Act, would also eliminate the tipped minimum wage. Currently, many restaurant workers get paid $2.13 an hour by their employer, but make up for that in tips. The bill would require them to be paid the minimum wage.

Terry worries the proposals would lead restaurants to change their business models, like having more automated service stations, which would cut jobs.

"I think this is bill is going to advance in some form, but it needs to be done smartly and it should be done in a way that you don't eliminate jobs and you don't kill an industry that's trying to get back on its feet," said Terry.

While this has been proposed before, Scott believes now is the time with Democratic majorities in Congress and control of the White House. "This is a very popular issue across America," he said.