LEGISLATURE

Legislature still has a chance to do the right thing

 

Jose.Rodriguez@myfloridahouse.gov

If you work full-time, you should at least be able to get by. For many working Floridians that just isn’t so and the Florida Legislature isn’t helping. Last year, our Legislature failed those working at the lowest end of the pay scale. Unfortunately, this year our leaders are poised to do the same.

Working full-time at Florida’s $7.93 minimum wage will earn you a bit more than $15,000 a year. Raising the minimum wage by just over $2 an hour would help our neighbors who work parking cars, serving in retail, providing security and cleaning hotels and hospitals. Proposals before the Legislature this year would do just that — but measures to raise the minimum wage haven’t even been given a hearing.

Opponents, motivated by ideology or ties with the corporate sector, argue that such raises hurt job creation. The majority of economic studies I have seen show no dis-employment effect to small raises in the minimum wage. That is, employers do not hire fewer workers when faced with a higher minimum wage, at least not at the very bottom of the pay scale.

A small number of studies even find a small boost to local economies, which they attribute to increased consumer spending by families with more income. Raising the minimum wage also doesn’t hurt small businesses. After all, if they’re small enough — our local mom and pop restaurants, for example — they aren’t covered by minimum wage laws.

Republican legislative leaders are missing an opportunity to help people at the bottom of the pay scale. Sadly, they did about the same thing last year.

Federal funds are available for states to respond to an unintended “coverage gap” created by the federal healthcare law. People in this gap are typically people working at the lowest end of the pay scale who earn too much to qualify for the current Medicaid program but yet earn too little to afford a private health care plan on heathcare.gov, even with subsidies.

Money was available to close the gap. Republican leadership in the Florida House, however, blocked a bipartisan plan from the Senate that would have used available federal dollars to provide health insurance to those in the gap.

The individuals and families who were left without coverage because of last year’s decision are virtually the same working Floridians who have the most to gain from an increase in the minimum wage. Heathcare coverage would’ve been available to individuals making up to $15,800 per year. For families, the figure goes up. A family of four, for example, earning up to $32,500 annually would have qualified for the assistance House leaders rejected.

Those income levels include families at the current minimum wage.

The result of these failures is often heartbreaking. A constituent of mine, Robert, has chronic back pain. He cleans buildings for a living but doesn’t make enough to get out of the coverage gap so he works without insurance. When he really needs it, the emergency room is where he goes for care. He would’ve had healthcare if Florida had accepted federal dollars last year.

If this year’s minimum wage proposal were passed, a $2 increase would very likely bump him out of the coverage gap and he would be able to go on heathcare.gov and purchase a plan, which was what he wanted to do earlier this year but couldn’t.

Doing right by Floridians at the lowest end of the pay scale is also sound policy.

These working people are the backbone of our service-driven economy, taking care of us whether we’re sitting at a table in a restaurant or lying in a hospital bed. Many work several part-time jobs to make ends meet and provide for their families.

Working without health insurance means expensive visits to the emergency room. Working without a raise means less is spent in our local economy.

The lowest estimates show that well over 700,000 people fall into Florida’s healthcare “coverage gap.” Nearly one in four lives in Miami-Dade County. That’s an awful lot of working people without health coverage. It’s also an awful lot of people who could use a raise.

With three weeks left to go in our legislative session, it’s not too late.

Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, is a member of the Florida House of Representatives, representing the 112th District.

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