PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY AND INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT FOR EVERYONE ACT
Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, as the cosponsor of this amendment with my friend and colleague, Senator Boxer, I do want to clarify for the record where we are and the view those who are sponsoring the amendment have with regard to proceeding on the TANF reauthorization legislation, which is before us.
Because we have had characterizations made about our amendment, I wish to clarify for the benefit of the Senate and, more importantly, for the American people exactly what the current situation is before the Senate.
Before the Senate, we have what we call the TANF legislation, to move people off welfare into employment. As has been mentioned on a number of occasions-I have a copy of the report-the point is made by the Republican floor manager that this amendment to increase the minimum wage is not pertinent to this legislation and, therefore, because of the fact we are offering it, we are delaying the whole process even though we indicated to the floor manager we were eager to enter into a very short time agreement, a 20-minute time agreement, time to be evenly divided, a time certain, and then move on to another amendment.
We want to make very clear, speaking for the supporters of the amendment, we are interested in coming to a resolution. The answer on the other side is, well, since this is not relevant to the subject at hand, we are not going to let a vote occur. That is a rather unusual process and procedure. As to amendments on legislation, unlike appropriations, the Senate rules permit a vote on legislation, but the majority does not choose to do so. Therefore, they refuse to let us get a vote on this and then criticize us for delaying the process even though we are prepared to vote this afternoon. It is 12:30 now; we can vote at 1, or whatever time the floor manager would permit us to do so.
I mention once again how ridiculous I think the argument is from the other side that this is not a relevant amendment. If one looks at the legislation itself dealing with TANF and looks through the report, as I have said previously, they can look under "strengthens work," that is what this legislation is supposedly all about. If we take the statement of the Secretary of HHS, Tommy Thompson-listen to this-regarding the TANF reauthorization requirements:
This administration recognizes that the only way to escape poverty is through work, and that is why we have made work and jobs that will pay at least the minimum wage the centerpiece of the reauthorization proposal for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
Here it is, the administration spokesman talking about the centerpiece of the TANF will pay a minimum wage. That is exactly what we are trying to do. How is it possible that the floor manager can say this is not relevant when the Secretary of HHS specifically refers to a minimum wage? How can they possibly take that position? How can they say we are trying to delay it when we are prepared to go ahead with a short time limit?
The American people must be greatly confused. Here it is, the Secretary of HHS, the President's representative on this issue, saying this administration recognizes the only way to escape poverty is through work and that is why we have made work and jobs that will pay at least the minimum wage the centerpiece of the reauthorization proposal for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. That is the statement he had at that time on March 6, 2002.
As the report goes on, the other references I have talked about, "reasons for change," to move welfare recipients into good jobs, good jobs obviously suggest they are going to be halfway decent.
The committee refers to the reasons for the change, that the committee wants to build by increasing work and reducing the welfare and talking about good jobs. That is the reference all the way through. That is what the Secretary has said. We have indicated we are prepared to move ahead and move ahead immediately, but we are denied the opportunity to do so. And that is with regard to procedure.
I listened earlier to my friend and colleague from Oklahoma saying we really do not need a minimum wage; we ought to let the market decide and make these judgments and decisions. Well, we have heard that. I have heard that since I arrived in the Senate, not only every time we have the chance to debate the minimum wage. Then he talks about the challenges we are facing in rural areas are not the same challenges as they face in urban areas, which we have understood. That is why we have an exclusion for agricultural workers. We have a different kind of a financial situation for mom-and-pop stores rather than the large stores in many urban areas. That is why we have a cap and say if you have approximately $600,000 or less gross earnings, you do not have to observe the minimum wage provisions. We responded to these rifleshot ideas that have been constantly brought up during the debates on the minimum wage.
I would like to go back to the general kinds of themes that were brought out. As we understand, this is a minimum wage, not a maximum wage. We are talking about a minimum wage to meet minimum kinds of standards in this country. Hopefully we have gone beyond the debate about whether we were going to have the robber barons or the monopolists in this society have individuals who are in the workforce so thoroughly and completely exploited.
Many in the Senate have been up to visit the old mill towns of Massachusetts, and one can still travel up to Lowell and visit many of those old textiles and they will see the letters from children who are 7 and 8 years old who were writing and who were working in the mills 10 or 12 hours a day, in many instances 7 days a week. Some of the most moving of those letters are by these children who write looking outside the windows and seeing other children playing outside and dreaming of the time that they might be able to do so.
In the old days when we did not have any kind of protections for any workers, we had extraordinary exploitation of children in the workforce. Well, that goes back to the time where the Government was not involved. In 1938, after a great deal of struggle, sweat, and bloodshed, all that changed with the very important child labor laws. Some had been passed before. Basically, we established the minimum wage, the time and a half for overtime, and the Fair Labor Standards Act, even though the overtime issue in question is now threatened by this administration that wants to abolish overtime for some 8 million workers, mostly firefighters, policemen, and nurses who in many instances are our first responders. All one has to do is go to any hospital and talk to some of those nurses and find out how in many instances they are required to work overtime, and find out their views about quality of care.
Now imagine if overtime is eliminated and there is that kind of requirement. We have a shortage of nurses today. One can imagine what is going to happen tomorrow if that particular recommendation by the administration is put into effect. So basically we are talking about a minimum wage.
We can hear on the other side, as we heard earlier from the Senator from Oklahoma, well, it is important to get on the bottom rung of the ladder because if one gets on the bottom rung of the ladder, they develop certain kinds of skills and attitudes and will be able to move ahead and have a successful life.
Well, there are certain truths to getting on a bottom rung of the ladder if the bottom rung of the ladder is not so low it actually submerges a person and they cannot survive on the bottom rung of the ladder because they are so overwhelmed by the challenges of life, of being able to survive. That is what we are talking about, having the bottom rung of the ladder so that at least one can make a living wage, they are going to at least be treated with some sense of dignity in this country of ours, which is the richest country in the world.
There are people who are struggling. It does appear, by those who are opposed to the increase in the minimum wage, there is some dismissiveness about the individuals who are receiving it. I do not buy that. The minimum wage workers in the workforce I have met are among some of the most courageous and dignified men and women one will ever want to meet.
I am going to mention who we are really talking about. Who are these people who are earning the minimum wage? We have heard speeches on the floor. Let's put some human faces on these individuals. Shreveport, LA: It was early April, and 46-year-old Mrs. Williams was dressed in the dark blue uniform she wears at her first job caring for the aged and infirm at a nursing home. On top there was a gray apron she dons for her second job cleaning offices at night. The place where she works as a nursing assistant, Harmony House, was paying her $5.50 an hour, barely above the minimum wage, even though she had been there for 10 years as a union member and completed college courses to become certified. The cleaning job which she took up because she could not make ends meet pays right at the Federally mandated $5.15 an hour.
"You think you are moving forwards," adds Ms. Williams, "but you're just moving backwards."
Mr. Valles earns his living serving hamburgers at a McDonald's restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. He's a family man. He and his wife, Lily, have two children.
"I make $5.75 an hour. That's about $240 a week. One hundred ninety dollars after taxes. You can't really live on that. Lily works in a fast-food place, too. She makes the same as me. Two weeks of my pay and two weeks of her pay every month goes for rent. Then you have to pay the fare to go back and forth to work. You gotta pay for your food. You have bills. We're still paying on the sofa. . . ."
I asked if they ever went on vacation. He looked at me as if I asked if his children could fly. "No," said Mr. Valles quietly.
"There is no money for vacation."
The list goes on. We have this situation:
As she weighs bunches of purple grapes or rings up fat chicken legs at the supermarket where she works, Fannie Payne cannot keep from daydreaming.
"It's difficult to work at a grocery store all day, looking at all the food I can't buy," Mrs. Payne said. "So I imagine filling up my cart with one of those big orders and bringing home enough for all my kids."
Instead, she said that she and her husband, Michael, a factory worker, routinely go without dinner to make sure their four
children have enough to eat. They visit a private hunger center monthly for three days' worth of free groceries, to help stretch the $60 a week they spend on food.
"We're behind on all our bills," Mrs. Payne said. "We don't pay electricity until they threaten a cut-off. To be honest, I'm behind two months on the mortgage-that's $600 a month. We owe $800 on the water bill and $500 for heat."
The Euclid Hunger Center helped her seek aid from her parish, Saint William's Catholic Church, but it hurt that three cars broke down in six months.
"They all died and we had to get Mike to work, so we bought a good used car we can't afford."
The first thing to go was money for food herself and husband. "Some nights Mike and I eat our kids' leftovers, and if we don't have enough money for milk, I feed the kids soup for breakfast," she said.
Living with housing hardship. Hector Cuatepotzo, a waiter in the upscale Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, lives in a tiny, one-bedroom apartment with his wife, Maria, 6-year-old daughter, Ashley, and infant son, Bryan. All four sleep in the same small room, with Bryan's crib nestled in one corner, Ashley's bed in another.
Cuatepotzo earns about $20,000 a year in salary and tips, equal to about $10 an hour, almost twice the minimum wage. But with $625 a month in rent and another $80 monthly gas and electricity, the family spends more than 40 percent of their income for housing. Cuatepotzo works from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and travels 40 miles round-trip to work each day because rents in buildings closer to his job are even higher.
Since Maria took time off from her job in the restaurant to have the baby, they received several eviction notices for late payment.
Cuatepotzo is thinking about getting a second job, but that would mean rarely seeing his children. Cuatepotzo, who has worked at the Miramar since arriving from Mexico 10 years ago, would like to own his own home someday. "It's my dream," he says. But he can't imagine how he'll ever get there when his family lives paycheck to paycheck.
This is what is happening all across this country. These are not people who are slackers; they are hard workers.
Here is Deborah, 23, from Pennsylvania, a single mother and survivor of domestic violence. She has two daughters. She was evicted from her home in New Jersey. She now resides in Clairton, PA, where she works as a salesperson in a grocery store earning $5.35 for 30 to 35 hours a week. Deborah has no health coverage for herself or her girls. Her earnings are spread thin to cover childcare expenses, transportation, food, and $50 a month for her bedroom at her aunt's. An increase in the minimum wage would help Deborah catch up on lagging bills, come closer to making ends meet, get needed doctor appointments for her children at a pay-for-service clinic, and purchase clothing for her children, who lost everything in the eviction and the escape from domestic violence.
Pat Rodriguez lives in Washington, has worked at a laundry and drycleaners in Washington for 8 years. She earns $6.15 an hour, the minimum wage for the District of Columbia. Currently she and her colleagues are on strike over low wages and other issues. The money she earns working full time is not enough to pay the rent, pay for the basic necessities for her family. She has a 2-year-old child and is expecting a second child. She has no pension, no access to affordable health care, and relies on Medicaid. She works full time and still does not make enough to be able to save for the children's education. Pat says, "I support raising the minimum wage, but I also want workers to be treated with respect, and for their work be valued accordingly."
Elaine Murphy and her three children, 16, 11 and 6, recently moved to Newburgh, NY, from Oregon. Mrs. Murphy is a teacher's aide and special needs bus aide in the local elementary school. Every morning she is in the bus yard at 6:30, waiting to escort handicapped children on the bus. Then she works in the school offices and in classrooms until around 3, when she gets back on the bus and escorts the handicapped children to their homes. In Oregon, she made $10 an hour doing similar work, but in the new job, she is paid the minimum wage.
The job suits her needs as a mother of three. She can be home in the afternoon to look after her 6-year-old, who is autistic and needs the kind of close supervision the school's afterschool program is not able to provide. There are daycare centers that could care for their son, but the cost is prohibitive. Her 16-year-old son is athletic, and after school she is able to drive him to practices and games.
Despite the fact that Elaine works full time, she is paid so little that she qualifies for food stamps and her children receive health care through Medicaid. This bothers Elaine. She doesn't want Government assistance. She wants to work hard and provide for her family. In the school district where she works, janitors and others are paid enough to support their families while Elaine has little choice but to turn to the Government for assistance. She perceives the problem as this: The assumption is that women who work as teachers' aides or do similar work are not supporting their families but, rather, working to supplement the household income. In her case, this is not true. Elaine is the sole provider for her three children.
For Elaine and her family, a higher minimum wage would mean a greater degree of self-sufficiency. Getting a second job is out of the question given her responsibilities at home. At the present rate of pay, making ends meet is impossible without Government subsidies. Elaine argues that working 40 hours a week for something as important as special needs education, she should not need Government handouts; that through hard work, she should be able to provide for her children.
This is it. These are the real faces of people who are out there, trying to make ends meet. Our proposal was to increase the minimum wage just to $7. I will show the chart here, what more has happened with regard to the minimum wage over recent years.
On the far side of the chart, this is purchasing power in the year 2000, dollar purchasing capability; in 1968 the equivalent of $8.50 for minimum wage. The red line indicates how the minimum wage has gradually dropped, how we were able to get it raised in 1990, and how we were able to get it raised in 1997 and 1998. Now we see it dropping without this increase to about its alltime low.
This is a minimum wage, not a maximum wage. We hear those saying, if you are going to go for $7, why not go $10 or $15? That is missing the point. What we are trying to do is get this increased to $7. That will still put it below where it was for a period of 12 or 14 years, but at least it gets it much closer to a living wage.
That is what this amendment is all about. We should understand it. This amendment affects real people. I gave some examples of real people. I have given examples of why the Secretary of HHS believes a minimum wage job is relevant to this bill. We have indicated we are prepared to vote on it. We daresay it is those on the other side, who do not want to vote on it, who are actually filibustering.
I want to come to this issue and talk a little bit about the impact on families, and particularly the impact on children in terms of hunger, the problems of hunger.
In 1938, we had the child labor law. We had minimum wage, and we put time and a half for overtime pay in there so workers would be considered. What we have looked at in more recent times, as hunger has been a defining aspect for people as well, we have tried to take a look at what the impact is on hunger, what the impact would be.
First of all, this chart: Hunger is increasing for minimum wage families. The Agriculture Department reported more than 300,000 more families are hungry today than when President Bush first took office. More than 12 million American households are worried that they would not have enough to eat, and nearly 4 million households had someone go hungry. African-American households, Latino households, and households headed by single mothers were much more likely than the national average to experience food insecurity, and also more likely to experience hunger.
I have the household food security for the United States. This study, put out by the Department of Agriculture, shows very clearly what is happening to families, and particularly families with minimum wage. What you find out is that in 1998, there were 14 million children who were living in families where there was a real problem in terms of food security, and then that went down in 1999 to 12 million.
In the year 2000, it is 12 million. Then we see in 2001 that it began to turn around. In 2002, it is 14 million going right back up again. We were seeing the decline in terms of the impact of hunger on children in this country. Now we see as a result of the economic policies and failure to increase the minimum wage the fact that hunger is again taking off in these minimum wage households.
This is an excellent report done by the State of Massachusetts. It is called "Walk For Hunger, Project Bread." I will include in the Record the appropriate parts of the study.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 425,000 people in Massachusetts lack access to adequate food. In low-income communities in Massachusetts, 20 percent of households cannot afford to buy enough food to meet the basic nutritional needs of household members. The prevalence of hunger is highest among families with children. Today, in low-income communities, one child in three lives in a household struggling to put food on the table.
Our State is one of the most prosperous, fortunately, in the country. This is what is happening in households in my State.
If it is happening in Massachusetts, it is happening in States across this country.
We have the broad figures. As we go along, I will have the opportunity to continue to give speeches and to point this out.
Listen to this one more time.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 425,000 people in Massachusetts lack access to adequate food. In low-income communities in Massachusetts, 20 percent of the households cannot afford to buy enough food to meet the basic nutritional needs of household members. The prevalence of hunger is highest among families with children. Today, in low-income communities, one child in three lives in a household struggling to put food on the table.
And we have opposition to an increase in the minimum wage.
How much evidence do you need over there? How much child hunger do you need to increase the minimum wage? What more in the world do you need?
That is happening not only in my State but in States all over this country. Children are facing real hunger because the parents are falling further and further and further behind.
I have a book full of those examples, some of which I read. I have a book full of examples from all over the country. This is what is happening. The problem is getting worse.
The Department of Agriculture indicates there are 35 million Americans hungry or living on the edge of hunger for economic reasons-35 million of our fellow citizens. There are 290 million people in this country, and 35 million of them are facing serious challenges with hunger in the United States today.
We will have a chance in half an hour, if you want to take a very modest step to increase the minimum wage. It is not going to solve the problem, but it will sure do more about it than the current legislation which is before us. That we know.
There are 300,000 more families hungry today than when this administration first took office. Twenty-three million Americans sought emergency food assistance from the hunger relief organization Second Harvest.
Isn't that a fine description of what our country is coming to.
As I indicated, these are men and women of dignity and respect, people who are working hard. We find in a number of the hunger programs, the Food Stamp Program and others, they are vastly underutilized because men and women have a sense of pride. They don't want to take handouts from the Federal Government. Even some of the school lunch programs are underutilized in some areas because parents don't want to have their children appear to come from a poor community. They are used to a higher degree than food stamps, but, nonetheless, that happens.
These are men and women of pride. It is a real problem. These families, as I mentioned-23 million, Second Harvest-cannot afford balanced adequate diets. Parents are skipping meals so their children can eat. Nationwide, soup kitchens and food pantries and homeless shelters are increasingly serving the working poor-not just the unemployed.
Both the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Catholic Charities report witnessing sharp increases in the use of emergency services offered by the cities and the Catholic Charity agencies.
In 2003, the survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors that looks at hunger found 39 percent of adults requesting food assistance were employed.
Effectively, 40 percent of people who are trying to get some additional food assistance are employed and work hard.
This is the conclusion of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, as well as Catholic Charities-a leading cause of hunger is low-paying jobs.
How much more evidence do you need? Do we think the U.S. Conference of Mayors is a tool of just the Democratic side of the Senate when Republican and Democrat mayors alike across this country are talking about the increasing problems they are facing and the challenges that families and their communities are facing when they say one of the principal reasons there is explosion in the hunger needs of children in this country is because of low-paying jobs?
That is what this amendment is about-to do something about low-paying jobs.
We have a chance to do something about it. We have done it in the past. We are denied the chance to do something right now about it.
If cloture is successful, we ought to say it as it is. It will defeat this amendment. Evidently, the Republican leadership fears voting on this amendment, for reasons I can't possibly fathom, so much they are delaying the Senate a whole day. Here we are on Wednesday at 1 o'clock, and we are not going to be permitted to vote. We could vote on this in half an hour. No, you can't vote on it. We are going to make sure the Senate doesn't do any work this afternoon because we feel so intensely about increasing the minimum wage. We are against it going to $7 an hour over a 2-year period. We are going to insist on cloture-the unusual step of cloture in the Senate-in order to bring that amendment down so we will not even have to vote on it even though the Secretary of HHS has indicated minimum wage is essential to the success of this program.
Is there anything more ludicrous? Is there anything that makes less sense?
It is absolutely out of our imagination that Republicans feel so intensely in opposition they will refuse to let this institution vote on this measure which can make a difference in terms of children in poverty, families in poverty, proud men and women who are trying to provide for their children, a step that we have taken 11 different times since the minimum wage was passed with Republicans and Democrats alike. But what it is about is this Republican leadership that says: No, we are not even going to let you vote on it.
We had difficulties other times trying to get a vote on it. I will certainly admit that. And the record will show that. But eventually we were able to do that, and eventually we were able to get it passed. But the ferocity of opposition this time is mind-boggling to this Senator.
Listen to this, again from the U.S. Conference of Mayors: Emergency food assistance increased by 14 percent. This is just in 1 year. These are the 2003 figures. Fifty-nine percent of those requesting emergency food assistance were members of families, children.
And then: City officials recommend raising the Federal minimum wage as a way the Federal Government can help alleviate hunger.
Here it is, the Conference of Mayors-Democrat, Republican, mayors from all over this country; North, South, East, West; Republican and Democrat-talking about hunger, talking about the particular hunger needs of children, talking about the problems of the growth of hunger for working families, and they make one single recommendation: increase the minimum wage. And we cannot even get a vote on it in the Senate.
Can you imagine people watching the Senate and hearing: Well, no, we can't vote on that. We can't vote on that. We are just not going to vote. And they say: Why? It looks as if those who are proposing it are ready to vote on it.
We are. When are you ready to vote on it? In 20 minutes, half an hour? We are prepared. We have offered time limitations.
They say: You are?
What is wrong with the other side? They say it is not relevant to the underlying bill. They say it is not relevant.
Let's see. Is that the way the Senate works?
Let me help you figure out why it is relevant because I have a statement from the President's representative on this bill.
This is what the President says. The President says:
This administration recognizes that the only way to escape poverty-
He is talking now about the underlying bill-
is through work, and that is why we have made work and jobs that will pay at least the minimum wage the centerpiece of the reauthorization proposal for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
Well, then they say: Wait a minute, I thought the Republicans said your amendment is not relevant. And now you are saying the Secretary of HHS says you should have a good job that pays an adequate minimum wage? Yes.
And they say: It would seem to me it would be relevant.
It does to me, too. That should be understandable to any third grader or fourth grader, but it is not to the Republican leadership because they do not want to pass it because they have powerful interest groups that do not want to pass it. That is the reason: special interest groups that refuse to let this pass. That is it. That is what this is about. You cannot get around it.
So we have taken a few examples of who the people are who are affected, what kind of lives they are living, and what has been happening in one State that is a pretty prosperous State, my own State of Massachusetts, that has done a very detailed study. I will include that, as I mentioned, as a fierce indictment in terms of the failure of both our State and the Federal Government to be able to provide the help and assistance.
We have the one recommendation by Republicans and Democrats alike, the mayors all over this country, who are close to the people on it and say: We have one single recommendation. They did not recommend the extension of TANF. They recommended one thing: increasing the minimum wage. That was their single recommendation.
We heard statements just yesterday. I, very briefly, will respond to the arguments that if we raise the minimum wage we are going to contribute to the problems of unemployment in our society. I am glad to go through this issue. We have extended charts. We have debated this frequently the other times we had the increase, with the Kruger studies from New Jersey, which are probably the most extensive studies. I have the whole working paper.
It goes into great detail as to the impact, historically, on the job market.
As I mentioned before, the yellow line on this chart is the rate of unemployment in the year we increased the minimum wage, showing the rate of unemployment in October, when we had the second increase in the minimum wage, and then several months later.
So you have the cumulative two increases in the minimum wage. And what was its impact on the rate of unemployment? As you see, going back to the 1996 increase, 1997, and then several months later, the unemployment rate remained at 4.7 percent.
If you break it out with regard to African Americans, Hispanics, and teens, it is very much the same. You had 10 percent unemployment for African Americans, and 9.5 percent. If you take both the increase in that year and this year, and then take the result for those two, look at the next year; it was at 9.3 percent. If you look among Hispanic Americans, it is the same pattern. And if you look among the teens, it is the same pattern.
Strong opposition said it is going to increase unemployment, it is going to increase teen unemployment, and minority unemployment. It does not do so.
Another factor is the issue about whether this is going to be an inflater. As I mentioned, if you look it over-for those who want to take the time, it is not very difficult to do-but if you take the increase, the total number of people who are going to be affected by the increase in the minimum wage, and take the total payroll, you will find out the impact.
We know increasing the minimum wage by $1.85, as I have pointed out, is vital to workers but a drop in the bucket o the national payroll. All Americans combined earn $5.7 trillion. And a $1.85 minimum wage increase would be less than one-fifth of 1 percent of the total national payroll. So spare us-spare us-the arguments about the adverse impact of an increase in the minimum wage on unemployment and on minorities and on teenagers, and spare us the argument that this is going to add to the issues of inflation because it does not do that.
What it will do is, it will help some extremely hard-working families. It will help many workers who work hard clearing out the buildings at nighttime, being assistants to our teachers in our high schools and elementary schools in our country, working in nursing homes as assistants. These are minimum wage workers, and they are men and women of dignity. They are not looking for Government handouts. They want to be able to work hard and raise their children and live with the respect of their children and spend time with their children.
That is why this is a women's issue because the great majority of those who receive the minimum wage are women. It is a children's issue because so many of those women have children. It is a family issue because the relationship between, primarily, single mothers-not always but primarily single mothers-and their children is dictated by whether the mother has one or two or even sometimes three minimum wage jobs. The time, or lack of time, they are able to spend with their children, obviously, is enormously important.
This minimum wage is also a civil rights issue because so many of the men and women who receive the minimum wage are men and women of color.
It is a civil rights issue, a children's issue, a family issue, a women's issue. Basically, it is a fairness issue because these men and women in this country believe if you work hard-you work hard-40 hours a week, 52 weeks of the year, you should not have to live in poverty.
If you look, after all is said and done, at where the poverty level is for a family of three, it will be something under $15,000. And even with our increase in the minimum wage, they are going to be well below that.
We are prepared to vote early this afternoon. We don't need more time. We can take more time, but we are prepared to vote at any particular time. This side has made its case. People in this body know what the issue is all about. It is not enormously complicated. They understand it. We are prepared to vote. It is a very simple vote. If it is finally enacted in the House-and I think with a strong vote here it will be-and if it is signed by the President-and if we have a strong vote in the House and the Senate, the President is going to sign it-it is going to make a big difference because 60 days after enactment, the first phase of it will begin to give some new hope to some of the hardest working men and women in the country.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I listened to my friend from Iowa, and he is my friend. It is amazing to hear the response to an increase in the minimum wage. They say we are going to let other Government programs look out after these proud, hard workers who are trying to provide for themselves and for their families. Effectively, if we follow the way that the Senator from Iowa suggests, we are going to have to tax more people a lot more so that those programs are going to be there because we refuse to have employers do what they should do, and that is to pay a fair wage.
Sure, everybody could be put on welfare and not have any minimum wage. What is the possible logic? Those Senators on the other side have been trying to cut those programs back for years. The programs dealing with nutrition, home heating and programs for food, they have been trying to cut those back for years. This administration has been trying to make EITC much more difficult to get.
In order to oppose the increase in minimum wage, they say, well, the EITC program is out there. We are talking about proud men and women who want to work hard and look after their children and have a sense of dignity and not depend on welfare programs. The answer for those who are opposed to us is, give them more welfare programs.
That is an insult to these working men and women. We reject that as an argument. We reject it.
We are standing for the dignity of those working men and women who ought, in the richest country in the world, in the strongest economy, to be able to work hard and bring up their children with respect and dignity and not a handout.
The Senator makes the point why we need the increase in the minimum wage. Because those workers are not receiving it today on their own. They should be able to get it. We are committed to trying to get an increase on the minimum wage.
I yield the floor.