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Letter to the Senate on the Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S. 2223)

April 29, 2014

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association (NEA), and the students they serve, we urge you to VOTE YES on cloture for the Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S. 2223), introduced by Senator Harkin (D-IA), to be voted on tomorrow.  S. 2223 would gradually raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour over a period of approximately three years and then tie future wage increases to inflation on an annual basis.  Votes associated with this issue may be included on the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 113th Congress. 

Raising the minimum wage is of special concern to educators because we know it will help our students whose parents work hard to support their families and we know it will help many of our fellow educators—food service professionals, custodians, and even adjunct college professors who do not earn a living wage.  Educators believe that no one who works a full-time job should live in poverty.   

At the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, a parent who works full time, year round, does not earn enough to be above the federal poverty line (Economic Policy Institute, December 2013). More than 16 million children under age 18 - nearly 22 percent of all children - live below the official poverty threshold, defined as an income of $23,550 for a family of four (U.S. Census Bureau). In 2012, more than two-thirds of poor children lived in a family with at least one working family member (Children’s Defense Fund). 

Men and women who dedicate their lives to transporting, nourishing, counseling, protecting or teaching our nation’s students should not be forced to live at or below the poverty line. But all too often, educators who choose a life of public service must trade away their right to a decent standard of living. In many parts of the country, education support professionals earn so little they qualify for public assistance - some work two or even three jobs to feed and house their families. An astonishing 15% of school food service workers qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (NEA ESPQ).

Many of our members have shared what they see and experience with their own students and families who are facing the challenges of poverty, and who would benefit from a raise in the minimum wage:

Edith Kimball, a food service worker from Florida, recently testified about the impact of federal budget decisions on individuals, families, and communities before the Senate Budget Committee. “My school, like our county, is poor. A few years ago almost all our kids were on free or reduced price lunch, and now a new grant helps provide meals to all of them. I love preparing healthy meals for them, even though many are picky eaters. And I know many of their families, like mine, struggle to make ends meet.  I know that Congress is talking about raising the minimum wage. For me, in my job, that would mean an increase of $200 more a month for my family. That would help give us a just a little more in our budget. It could help me open a college savings plan for my children for their future.  Every parent wants the best for their children and I am not any different than any other parent.  My daughter, Olivia wants to be a doctor.  It is my responsibility to see to it that she gets the best education available.  I have told her she will have to study and work hard and I would do my best to see that she could fulfill that dream.  But, right now that is going to be difficult for my family.” 

Mary, Educator, California “More than 95% of the students at my Title 1 elementary school are on free or reduced lunch programs. They eat all three meals at school. There is little to no food at home. Many wear dirty clothes because there is not enough money to do laundry more than once a week. Families struggle to pay rent, utility bills, and buy necessities like prescription eyeglasses for their children. Our para-professionals, credentialed pre-school teachers and support staff have also taken cuts...and they already make just barely above the poverty level wages on their pay scale. With such a low minimum wage allowed by the Feds, they are pushing us all into poverty.”

Gladys, ESP member, Kentucky “Wages need to be raised to help families feed and clothe their children and to ensure they have a roof over their head. A raise in the minimum wage could allow parents to spend more time with their children by not having to work two jobs. So many of our country’s children are being raised by grandparents while their parents work.  I work in education and I see children every day and hear their stories of how they miss time with their parents because they were working overtime just to make enough to pay their bills.  If the minimum wage was raised, parents would have more time to be involved in their kids’ education and be involved with school activities and talk to their children’s teachers.”    

Each day educators see students whose families are struggling financially, which can have a huge impact on a child’s well-being.  To help ensure a living wage for parents of so many students, for workers to support their families, including the education support professionals who keep our students safe and schools functioning, we urge you to support an increase in the federal minimum wage such as the one NEA supports in the Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S. 2223).

Again, we urge you to Vote Yes on cloture for S.2223. 

Sincerely,

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations