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Public Statements

High Gasoline Prices

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


HIGH GASOLINE PRICES

Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, I had not expected to hear the kind of statement with regard to the criticism of the Senator from Massachusetts, my colleague and friend JOHN KERRY, on the energy policy. I will include in my comments a response to Senator Inhofe.

I am wondering whether the Senator could possibly tell us what was the position of the President of the United States when OPEC continued to cut back on production today. We have a statement by a colleague talking about a candidate for the President of the United States when today OPEC primarily-

Mr. INHOFE. Madam President.

Mr. KENNEDY. I have the floor.

Mr. INHOFE. Madam President, I was asked a question, and I would like to answer the question.

Mr. KENNEDY. Regular order. Regular order.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Massachusetts has the floor.

Mr. KENNEDY. No, I do not yield.

We have today more than 150,000 servicemen who are over there protecting the oil countries in the Middle East, and American service men and women are dying every single day. If we have a President of the United States who is lacking in sufficient influence to try and indicate to our allies that it is of vital importance to the security of the families and industry in the United States that they increase their production, what kind of influence do we have? Where is our President of the United States on this issue? Why are we hearing Members who are so eager to talk about JOHN KERRY's policy on energy talking about what we ought to be doing over there today as OPEC is cutting back on its production?

We hear silence. We have silence about that. Where is the administration?

I remember last week we had my good friend Spencer Abraham, who is the Secretary of Energy, and I asked him the question whether this President was going to try and persuade the oil-producing countries in the Middle East to produce more energy, particularly at a time when we are faced with difficult economic significance. His answer was: This administration is not going to beg for oil.

Beg for oil? When we have 140,000 men and women over there protecting their interests and protecting their oil and they are cutting back production?

I would not think there would be many Members of the Senate who would be criticizing my colleague, who has done so, who recognize that their President should provide Presidential leadership. This election is about Presidential leadership. My colleague has been demanding that this President do something about the cutbacks in production.

We hear criticism-well, he didn't show up for a vote. Sure, he is running for the Presidency of the United States.

I will certainly respond to my colleague, but I am absolutely baffled that one of the major energy decisions being made in the world is being made within the last 24 hours by the OPEC countries, the primary producers, Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, other middle eastern countries whose security American servicemen have been fighting for and dying for, and this President and this administration has not sufficient influence to be able to stop them from cutting back in production or getting them to increase production. You talk about a bankrupt energy policy-there it is.

Every consumer ought to know when they pay those extra funds for the gasoline, they are paying it directly to countries over there in the Middle East whose security we are protecting and for which American lives are being lost. It is beyond belief to me.

AMENDMENT NO. 2945

Madam President, we have, over the course of the day, had a number of our colleagues speak about the amendment that is before us, and that is the increase in the minimum wage over a 2-year period, up to $7 an hour. I want to wrap up this evening and summarize a couple of important points because during the course of the afternoon, I followed the debate when I wasn't here for a few hours, meeting with the head of the VA about some of the challenges we are facing up in Massachusetts about veterans health.

We heard statements, speeches from some of our colleagues on the other side, that the increase in the minimum wage was delaying action on the TANF reauthorization. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. As Senator Boxer, my friend and colleague who introduced the legislation, and I have stated, we would have been willing to have a 20-minute time agreement, 10 minutes a side, and had a vote and final disposition and then moved ahead with other amendments.

But the opposition is so strong in opposition to this amendment that the Republican leadership has insisted we have, effectively, a cloture vote, delaying progress on the underlying bill for some 2½ days, so if they are successful in getting cloture, cutting off the debate, they will eliminate the possibility of even voting on an increase in the minimum wage.

Maybe there are those who are opposed to the increase in the minimum wage. We have heard some of them speak today in opposition. But the idea that this is not related and relevant to the underlying bill defies any logic and any fair understanding of what the underlying bill, the TANF bill, is all about.

I bring to their attention the statement that was made by Secretary Thompson regarding the TANF reauthorization when he testified on March 6, 2002. He said:

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 Family Program.

That will pay at least the minimum wage. There it is in the words of the President's own representative. That is exactly the issue we are attempting to address and we are being denied getting final action on it.

I am going to take a moment to review for the benefit of the Senate about where the minimum wage is now. The purchasing power of the minimum wage has dramatically decreased.

We reviewed with the Senate what the impact of the increase in the minimum wage has been on unemployment and have shown many times when we have had increase in the minium wage it had virtually no adverse impact on the question of unemployment. We reviewed the fact if we have the increase in the minimum wage it virtually has no impact on the issue of inflation. We responded to the question of different conditions and different parts of the country. There are small mom-and-pop stores that would not be able to afford the increase in the minimum wage. We responded and pointed out those stores by and large are excluded under the provisions of the existing minimum wage.

We heard: We don't want to do this because we want to encourage young people to work in agriculture. We responded: It doesn't relate to agricultural workers.

We have addressed all of these kinds of conditions.

These minimum wage workers are men and women of dignity. They work hard and long. The men and women who clean out the buildings in this country at nighttime, teachers' aides, and assistants working in homes looking after the elderly are men and women of dignity. They do not want any assistance. They want to have a wage so they can provide for themselves and their children and their families.

I want to reiterate and give some examples. I gave some examples earlier. These are the real faces of people who are going to be affected by what we do here tomorrow on the floor of the Senate, whether we are going to be able to get a vote on the increase in the minimum wage or whether we are going to be denied that opportunity to do so.

The minimum wage affects a person such as Cynthia Porter.

Cynthia Porter is not on welfare. She works as a certified nursing assistant at a nursing home in Marian, Alabama. When Cynthia comes on duty at 11:00 p.m., she makes rounds. She checks the residents for skin tears and helps them go to the toilet or use a bedpan. She has to make sure she turns the residents every two hours or they will get bedsores, and if bedsores are left unattended, they can get so bad that you can put your fist in them.

But there aren't enough people on her shift. Often there are only two nursing assistants for forty-five residents. In addition to responding to the needs of the residents, Cynthia must also wash the wheelchairs, clean up the dining rooms, mop the floors and scrub out the refrigerator, drawers, and closets during her shift. Before she leaves, she helps the residents get dressed for breakfast.

For all of this, Cynthia makes $350 every two weeks. She is separated from her husband, who gives her no child support. The first two weeks each month she pays her $150 rent. The next two weeks, she pays her water and her electric bills. It is difficult to afford Clorox or shampoo. Ensuring that her children are fed properly is a stretch, and she is still paying off the bicycles she bought for her children last Christmas.

She can't afford a car, so she ends up paying someone to drive her the twenty-five miles to work. And there have been a few days when she couldn't find a ride. "I walked at twelve o'clock at night," she said. "I'd rather walk and be a little late than call in. I'd rather make the effort. I couldn't just sit here. I don't want to miss a day, otherwise, I might be fired." There is no public transportation that would take her to work.

I first met Cynthia at a union meeting. She had a quiet, dignified presence with her dark suit and her hair pulled back in a bun. She and twenty-five others from the nursing home-all eighty of her coworkers are African American women like her-gathered in the little brick Masonic building outside of Marian to talk about having a union. Like Cynthia, none has ever gotten a raise of more than 13 cents. Some who had been there ten years were still making $6.00 an hour.

She is effectively a minimum wage worker.

These are the people this legislation is trying to help.

Linda Stevens:

The only job she could find with a high school degree and some college courses was a part-time cashier's position at a small market called George and Stanley's, working the night shift from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Not surprisingly, the $5.00 an hour she made at her retail job was not enough to support her and her daughter, so she worked a second job from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. as a receptionist at H&R Block, which paid $5.50 an hour. She liked the work and would have preferred to go full-time, but H&R Block only offered work from January through April. The money from these two part-time jobs still did not cover her bills, so she worked as a lunch supervisor for the Flint public schools from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. She had to put planners up on the wall to keep track of her schedule. And even then, she had no benefits.

After a year, Linda left her job at George and Stanley's after they refused to give her a 25 cent raise and went to work at Kessell's on the day shift for $5.25 an hour. But Kessell (which has since been purchased by Kroger) would only give her a part-time position and without full-time status, she still did not get benefits. Working three jobs became so exhausting that she left her lunch supervisor position, but had to continue to work her second job at H&R Block.

Linda's typical day started at 6:00 a.m. when she got her daughter ready for school. Her job at Kessell started at 7:00 a.m. and ended at 3:00 p.m. She came home, changed, and went to her job at H&R Block at 5:00 p.m. and got off at 10:00 p.m. Her schedule left little time to spend with her daughter.

She needs a minimum wage to help that family.

Flor Segunda of Newark, NJ:

Flor lives in a primarily African-American neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey, with her husband and three children: Jose, who is nine years old; Luis, who is two and a half; and Paul, who is one and a half. To reach Flor's place, you must walk down a flight of concrete stairs, through a narrow hall, and past the washer and dryer. Like most basement apartments, it is damp and dark. One small window allows the only daylight to enter. They pay $700 per month for this two-bedroom apartment without utilities. There are no parks near her apartment and she doesn't have a car. So most days, the children stay inside.

At night when most workers are at home, Flor begins her day. She cleans, dusts, vacuums, dumps trash, and straightens the offices of law firms in a large suburban office building in West Orange, New Jersey. Flor is a janitor. She works for a private contractor who contracts with the owners of commercial buildings to provide cleaning services.

She would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage.

Finally, Judy Smithfield:

Judy Smithfield works in a superstore as a pharmacy technical assistant, a "pharmacy tech." Her 12:00-9:00 p.m. shift begins with a call from a nurse in a doctor's office dictating a prescription over the phone or a customer at the counter giving her a prescription. Once she has the information, she gives it to the pharmacist to process in the computer. Then it is Judy's responsibility to check that information and get the proper medication from the shelf. She counts the pills that are prescribed, puts them into the bottle, affixes the proper label to the medication, gives the filled prescription to the pharmacist for her review, and puts it in the proper bin for the customer to pick up.

Once the customer arrives, Judy must ensure that she has the right prescription and that the proper forms are filled out. She must ask the customer whether they understand the prescription, whether they want counseling or have any further questions. Their response must be put in writing.

There are two pharmacy techs and three pharmacists on Judy's shift that fill over 400 prescriptions per day. If the pharmacy gets behind in the prescriptions, Judy stays late, sometimes until midnight. Many times she works six days a week because they don't have enough help. Her feet and back ache from standing all day.

This will help Judy.

I want to conclude again by talking about the impact of the minimum wage and the failure of increasing the minimum wage on families, particularly on children.

I pointed out earlier we have 35 million Americans, according to the Department of Agriculture, who are hungry or living on the edge of hunger for economic reasons-35 million in a country of 290 million.

Today 300,000 more families are hungry than there were 3 years ago. The 2003 survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors that looked at hunger found effectively 39 percent of the adults requesting food assistance were employed. A leading cause of hunger is low-paying jobs.

Emergency food assistance increased by 14 percent. Of those requesting emergency food assistance, 59 percent were members of families with children and elderly parents.

City officials recommend raising of the Federal minimum wage as the way the Federal Government could alleviate hunger.

This is their No. 1 recommendation. This is the survey of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Republican and Democrat alike, for raising the minimum wage.

Finally, I have the excellent report of the National Urban League, October 2002. I will read just parts of it. In the foreword, it says:

Too often, changes in the minimum wage are viewed as poorly targeted to the needs of America's working families.
Minimum wage workers are too often presented as teenagers, or wives in middle class families. Yet, the clear implications of this study are that the proposed increase in the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.65 an hour would move 1.4 million American households to the level of being food secure, having enough money to buy nutritious and safe food for their families. And, a disproportionate share of the households that would benefit would be African American or Hispanic. Single parent households would also benefit disproportionately from an increase in the minimum wage.

Again raising the minimum wage is a clear policy solution for helping meet the needs of America's poor children.

Then it goes on in the executive summary:

Second, we show that increases in the minimum wage raised the food security of households in which the householder, principal person in the household, has no more than a high school diploma or is a single parent or both. The increases in the minimum wage lessened hunger in all households, but particularly in low-income households and in those households in which the householder was less educated, African-American, Hispanic or was a single parent.

Finally, I will include in the RECORD the findings. These are briefly the findings.

We find that:

(1) Increases in the Federal minimum wage to $4.25 in October of 1996 and $5.15 per hour in September 1997-

That was 7 years ago-

reduced hunger among all households and in particular, in low-income households where individuals had completed no more than a high school degree. . . . Hunger is defined as a psychological condition where household members experience an uneasy or painful sensation caused by the involuntary lack of food.

(2) Relative to the general population, food security rates are lower among households in which the householder has no more than a high school degree. . . .

(3) A direct relationship between food security and increases in the minimum wage was observed following two modest increases in the minimum wage in 1996 and 1997-when food security rates increased slightly; and following administration of the Food Security Supplement . . . of 1995. Food security rates also increased modestly following 1995. . . .

(4) Inner city households have the highest levels of food insecurity, followed by suburban and rural households. Other studies have demonstrated that groups most-at-risk for food insecurity are those who are most economically vulnerable, and whose households are most directly impacted by increases in the minimum wage.

The failure of our increase in the minimum wage is wrong because Americans believe people who work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, should not have to live in poverty in the United States of America. And it is wrong because we now have millions of children who are going hungry every night, and millions of families who are going hungry as well.

We can make some difference by increasing the minimum wage. It is now at a dramatically decreased level of purchasing power. Certainly, we can do better. We should do better. How can we possibly tolerate the conditions of our fellow Americans and not say that we need an increase in the minimum wage? I hope we will be able to do so tomorrow.

I yield the floor.

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