The Maine House has given final passage to a measure to give a much-needed boost to the minimum wage, which stands at $7.50 an hour and has remained at that level since 2009.

“No one working 40 hours a week should be living in poverty,” said Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham. “If the price of bread, milk and gas go up, so should wages.”

The bill faces another vote in the Senate and will then be sent to Governor Paul LePage for signature.

Berry added, “If the Governor is serious about helping Maine’s economy, he will sign this bill into law.”

The bill, LD 611, “An Act To Adjust Maine’s Minimum Wage Annually Based on Cost-of-living Changes,” would raise the minimum wage to $8.00 per hour beginning July 1, 2014. The rate would then increase to $8.50 per hour beginning July 1, 2015 and $9.00 per hour beginning July 1, 2016. Beginning July 1, 2017, the minimum wage would be automatically adjusted for inflation annually.

The measure first passed in a party line vote on March 28.

During the floor debate, Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, spoke about a mass layoff at a manufacturing plant in her community. She told how many of the displaced workers were able to find only minimum-wage work that was insufficient to support their families.

Herbig noted that Mainers working full-time minimum-wage jobs earn $15,600 a year.

“This is less than $240 a week you’re getting. These people are parents. How can you provide for a family on $240 a week?” said Herbig, House chair of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee.

The measure would provide modest, incremental increases in the minimum wage said Rep. Scott Hamann, D-South Portland, the bill sponsor.      

“Increasing the minimum wage puts money in people’s hands. And they in turn spend it in their communities,” Hamann said.

Opponents falsely argue that raising the minimum wage would increase unemployment. Studies show it has no impact on employment.

Vermont transitioned to an indexed minimum wage in 2007 and has seen unemployment under 5 percent.  Vermont’s minimum wage, $8.60 an hour, is the highest in the region, and is indexed to inflation.

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