This report was written by Julia Rock and Andrew Perez.
Less than two months after Delaware’s Democratic U.S. senators cast decisive votes to help Republicans kill a $15 minimum wage initiative, Democratic lawmakers in their own state just took a big step toward passing the same minimum wage legislation statewide. In the process, Delaware’ Democratic state lawmakers slammed the kind of corporate talking points that their own U.S. Senators used to justify their actions.
The Delaware bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 cleared a key hurdle in the Delaware state assembly on Thursday, meaning it could get a floor vote as soon as next week and head to the governor’s desk.
The legislation — backed by every single Democrat in Delaware’s state Senate — creates an embarrassing situation for Delaware’s Democratic senators, Chris Coons and Tom Carper, who just voted down a similar measure to raise the nationwide minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. Despite hailing from President Joe Biden’s deep-blue home state, the two senators recently joined every Republican and six conservative Democrats last month to block the Senate from voting on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ measure to add the minimum wage provision back into the American Rescue Plan.
Carper and Coons both claimed after their votes that they feared the minimum wage measure could hurt small businesses recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic — even though Congress created a massive forgivable loan program for small businesses last year, and recently authorized a $28.6 billion grant fund specifically for restaurants in the American Rescue Plan.
"I have backed a $15 minimum wage on the federal level for years,” Carper said in a statement, adding that “policymakers have a responsibility to be especially mindful of the fragile state of small businesses all across this country — many of which are fighting just to stay open during this unprecedented crisis.”
The Delaware State News reported that Coons believed Sanders’ minimum wage legislation wasn’t gradual enough for small businesses that are struggling due to the pandemic. But as the Delaware Call noted, Coons has never actually supported a $15 minimum wage, and said during a town hall last year that he thinks “there are places in the country where that’s too high.”
Delaware, apparently, isn’t one of those places.
This week, Delaware Democratic lawmakers scoffed at some of the senators’ arguments, spotlighting a growing divide between the party’s rank and file and its elites in Washington.
“Despite what opponents will say, there is every reason to expect a net benefit for all parties involved, especially in the long run,” state Sen. Jack Walsh, the sponsor of the $15 minimum wage legislation, wrote in an op-ed this week. “It’s not rocket science — when workers earn more, they spend more in the local economy.”
“Minimum wage increases will actually aid Delaware’s economy by helping to build a widely shared recovery,” Rep. Gerald Brady, the lead sponsor of the legislation in the House, said in a statement.
“Raising the minimum wage will boost the consumer spending that local businesses rely on. It will reduce the strain on the safety net caused by wages that people can’t live on and help level the playing field for businesses,” he added.
While businesses have had financial lifelines available, COVID has been particularly hard on low-wage workers, many of whom have been deemed “essential” and forced to work throughout the pandemic. According to a recent Brookings Institution study, “essential workers comprised approximately half (47 percent) of all workers in occupations with a median wage of less than $15 an hour.”
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