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ANNAPOLIS — During a public hearing for the Maryland General Assembly’s Economic Matters Committee, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks spoke in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 on Feb. 8.
The eight-hour meeting brought together Maryland state delegates, other county leaders such as Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, Anne Arundel County Executive Steven Schuh, and almost 200 community leaders and everyday citizens who gave testimony in support of the Fight for $15.
The public leaders in attendance emphasized that they are ready to make the change to bridge the inequality gap in Maryland.
At the beginning of her short speech, Alsobrooks referenced a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. during his Nobel Peace Prize address saying that there is “nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it.”
According to Alsobrooks, between 2009 and 2015 the top one percent in Maryland made 26 times more than the rest of the population, and in Prince George’s, the top one percent made six times more than everyone else, in the county.
Research shows that people of color and women make up the majority of the minimum wage population and the introduction of a higher minimum wage will start to close the gender and racial, said Delegate Diana Fennell (District 47A) who sponsored the new bill.
“For far too long working families in Maryland have been struggling to cover the cost of their necessities,” Fennell said. “A $15 minimum wage will give over 600,000 working people a raise and raise them from poverty.”
Alsobrooks echoed the sentiment that an increased minimum wage will provide an opportunity for all families, no matter where they come from, to make decent wages and have peace of mind.
“Raising wages for working people not only helps to close the wealth inequality gap but helps to strengthen consumer demand and create an economy that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few,” she said. “Increasing the state’s minimum wage would be a step in the right direction to remedy decades of increasing wage inequality.”
A few concerns were addressed such as the representation of Eastern Shore counties who do not have the major industries or businesses that the larger counties do. That includes small business owners being able to keep up with the wage increase to which Alsobrooks said that the bill has provisions in place such as the increase over the course of five years instead of an immediate change.
“I’ve heard the concern from some people, and I think it’s a legitimate concern saying whether or not the business community will be able to afford to pay employees once the increase goes into effect,” Alsobrooks said.
“What I say is we cannot afford not to raise the minimum wage. As public servants this is something to take into account when we discuss this legislation and I’m sure we want to do what is best for our business community, especially our small local and minority business but they will be able to adapt to this change because I think we can all agree when we talk about businesses, business owners are hard working and just as concerned about providing for their families. However, I believe that this bill has the appropriate provisions in it.”
According to the bill, the $15 minimum wage figure will not be implemented in full until July 2023 but will steadily increase by one dollar per year until then. The wage is rising to $11 in July 2019, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
Additionally, the Fight for $15 bill includes points that repeal certain provisions of law that allow certain employers to pay certain employees a wage that is less than the state minimum wage under certain circumstances such as tipped employees. The law prohibits an employer from including a tip credit amount as part of the wage for certain employees.
The tip wage will also increase gradually throughout the next few years. Starting at $3.63 in July 2019 by July 2026, the minimum wage for tipped employees will be equivalent to the state minimum wage of $15.
“There is nowhere in the state of Maryland that a single wage earner can survive on less than $15 and hour so this legislation is long overdue,” Fennell said. “Minimum wage has not kept up with inflation.”
According to a January 2019 poll released by Gonzales Research and Media Services, 61 percent of Marylanders now support the $15 minimum wage.
About 174 of them were in attendance at the meeting to testify in support of the Fight For $15 including security guards, teachers, servers single mothers and more.
“Who are the people that will benefit from increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour?” Fennell said. “They are not just food workers. They are healthcare workers, security guards, farm workers, teachers aids, airport workers to list a few. They are single parents, seniors and college graduates. They are hardworking people who deserve a decent standard of living.”
The other county and public leaders reiterated their support for raising the $15 minimum wage with Elrich noting that Montgomery County raised the minimum wage to $11.50 in recent years intending to gradually raise it with the understanding that “persistent poverty is the reflection the persistence of low wages.”
“I know this is something that we have talked about this for years since I’ve been down here,” said District 25 Delegate and Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland Chair Darryl Barnes. “I believe the time is now. I believe that the people, our constituents, have been asking for this increase.”