Diary of a Congresswoman

Today Teresa spoke on the floor of the house in favor the $1.9 trillion dollar stimulus and covid relief bill, the American Rescue Plan and its provision for a $15 min wage.

Teresa Leger Fernandez:
For years, the congressional progressive caucus has fought to give working families the dignity they deserve for the work they perform for our communities and our economy. The increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour is an important step to accomplish this goal. Our caucus is pleased that 14 years after Congress last increased the minimum wage, we are finally close to seen an increase become law. The American Rescue Plan is intended to help those most impacted by the pandemic’s financial hardships. The increase in the minimum wage will help those most vulnerable, our essential workers. It’ll put money into the economy and into our local businesses. It’ll help jumpstart our economy, our recovery.
You know, this is also about the dignity of work, right? This is a bill that will grant people. The dignity of work with a living wage. When we don’t provide a living minimum wage to American workers, they have to work several jobs, or rely on food stamps or other government subsidies to put a roof over their head or food on the table. Rather than subsidizing corporations who pay their workers, poverty wage, let’s invest in families.
Our workers put value and love into the work they do, day in and day out. But Congress hasn’t raised the minimum wage in over a decade. It’s set so low it’s unsustainable for anyone. It was unsustainable before the pandemic. And now it’s impossible for anyone to survive off the minimum wage alone. If we don’t raise the wage, we’ll be turning our backs on the essential workers, on the same workers who have been keeping our country running for the last year. We’ll be turning our backs on working families. You know, everybody, all the time, right? We hear it all the time is thanking our essential workers. Thank you, essential workers. We recognize now that those that work in our grocery stores who care for our elderly, who pick our foods, who keep our schools and hospitals clean, we recognize that our country is being maintained by those workers through this pandemic, right?
So well, we’re thanking them. We’re thanking them for putting their lives at stake every time they go to work. You know what? That thank you is hollow if we don’t back it up with action. That thank you is meaningless unless we say we are willing to not only thank you, but to actually pay you a wage that will allow you to live and pay your rent and buy your food and take care of your children. You know, finally, we are going to put that thank you, we’re going to turn it into action. And we’re going to do that tomorrow, because tomorrow we are going to fulfill our commitment to workers and we’re going to include the minimum wage and the American Rescue Plan. So let’s not lose sight, either, on the fact that that this minimum wage is about our values. But it’s also about family values, because this is a bail, the American Rescue Act, that includes the new minimum wage, that values families.
And why? Because we’ve all heard the stories of those families, those parents, whether they’re a single parent or two parents or two parents and their kids are working. We’ve all heard those stories, that the minimum wage we have now set at $7 in many places that that’s not enough to pay the rent. And so what do people need to do? They need to take out a second job. They need to work longer hours. They need to do overtime. And what happens when you’re working two jobs or overtime? Do you then have time to coach little league, to coach your daughter’s soccer team, to spend that extra time reading to your kids? The reality is you don’t. So if we value families, we would pay the parents enough so that they have enough time to spend with their families.
You know, this is about taking families out of poverty. This is about taking children out of poverty. And this is about allowing them to come out of poverty through their employment. Now, there are criticisms out there that raising the wage will close businesses and that people will lose their jobs. I’m here to tell you from experience that that won’t happen. We’ve had many economists who’ve talked about the fact that that won’t happen. But let me tell you I’ve got experience because in 2002, Santa Fe increased the minimum wage. We called it back then and that’s why I will sometimes fall into the thing of saying a “living wage”. We increased the minimum wage and we did it because we wanted to help people. We wanted to take the first step to bring people out of poverty. So the living wage effort that we did in Santa Fe was a broad coalition that included businesses, included grassroots activists, and included governments.
It also included the faith community and the Catholic church. This faith community and the Catholic church, they saw it as a Christian value, that people deserve to earn a living wage for their hard work. And the first five years after its passage, not only were businesses not harmed, but the number of establishments, the number of small businesses Santa Fe grew. From 2012 to 2017, both the number of small businesses and the number of people employed by small businesses in Santa Fe increased–all while seeing higher wages every single year, because what we did in Santa Fe was we said, we need to make this decision now and then do what we’re doing in our bill, which is index it so that we don’t have to have this fight all the time, and so that we don’t set a minimum wage, which is then a poverty wage, if we don’t act. So in Santa Fe, we did that, and it didn’t kill job growth. It didn’t harm businesses, but it did help families. It helped stimulate our economy. It made our community stronger. It was so successful that the county then adopted a similar living wage. And it was so successful in the city and the county that the state of New Mexico raised the minimum wage as well here in the house. We’ll do what we did in Santa Fe and New Mexico. We will do our job to provide workers across the nation with a wage that reflects the hard work they do for us. We will thank them with our legislation. So I’m going to also urge the Senate to lead with the kind of empathy and compassion that our citizens and our constituents and our communities expect of us. And if you lead with empathy and compassion, you will also pass an American Rescue Plan that includes the minimum wage. So I’m glad to be on the floor today with my progressive caucus colleagues this evening.