In January, Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois was one of six Republicans to allow a bill extending unemployment insurance (UI) to proceed in the Senate.
But when the bill was coming up for a cloture vote, Kirk said that he would only vote for it if the costs were offset by spending cuts.
After much negotiation, Democrats and Republicans figured out a solution to pay for extending unemployment insurance. That bill was expected to break the filibuster on February 6, but it fell one vote short. Going back on his promise, had Kirk remained with the filibuster. On Twitter, he said it was because the negotiated offsets were “political gimmicks.”
Let’s get back to gimmicks in a second. First, here’s what’s happening while the Republican-led filibuster of UI remains in place.
The number of Americans without emergency unemployment benefits continues to grow. 1.3 million Americans, including 20,000 recent veterans, lost UI when the benefits first expired last December. Since then, another 400,000 Americans have joined their ranks.
Illinois has an unemployment rate higher than the national average, 8.9 percent as of October. More than 119,000 Illinois residents will lose benefits by the end of next week if UI is not extended. Not surprisingly, polling shows they support a UI extension 63-31.
The same poll showed that 40 percent of respondents say they are less likely to vote for Kirk because of his obstruction of UI.
It’s not clear what Kirk is waiting for. It is clear, however, how he has been spending his time and office resources.
Other than the one tweet, Kirk didn’t issue a press release about his vote. On his official website, there is no information on why he voted for, then twice against, extending unemployment insurance.
But there is an extensive Flash-powered page dedicated to the 11 Olympic athletes who hail from Illinois.
Kirk’s office also posted extensively on all his social media channels for the two week duration of the Sochi games.
Seems like Senator Kirk is plenty familiar with “political gimmicks.”
By April 5, the total number of Americans cut off from emergency unemployment insurance will reach 2.3 million. At any time, Senator Kirk can drop his support for the Republican-led filibuster and allow the bill to proceed on an up-or-down vote. Like he said he would.
Isn’t that the least he can do for 1.7 million job-seekers? Or do unemployed Illinoisans have to be Olympic athletes to get their Senator’s attention?
Tell your Senator to end the games: renew unemployment insurance now.
Photo by juggernautco on Flickr
Tags: filibuster, Illinois, Jobs, Mark Kirk, olympics, unemployment, unemployment insurance
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“Here’s what my $29.96 bought me,” Rep. John Lesch (DFL-Saint Paul) says into the camera. He then turns the camera to his kitchen floor, where he has laid three meals a day for the entire week. Lesch is one of the Minnesota lawmakers participating in our Minimum Wage Challenge, which limits his weekly food budget at roughly $35.
In the homemade video posted on YouTube, Lesch runs over this meal plan: for breakfast, two eggs and one cup of fruit loops; a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Ramen noodles for lunch; and depending on the day, repeating that same lunch for dinner. For a few dinners, he includes a Tostino’s Personal Party Pizza.
“Now keep in mind, this is for one person,” he says. “If you have to raise a family, if you have a child, two children on minimum wage, I have no idea how you are going to pull this off.”
We know that many low-wage workers in Minnesota and across the country do have to care for children. Out of more than 356,000 low-wage workers in the state, about 63,000 have at least one child.
As he goes over his meal plan, Lesch points out that he has tried to vary his meals day to day–a few tuna sandwiches mixed in with the PB&J, no mayo–but that it’s a pretty repetitive diet. There’s also no fruits or vegetables, save for a few cans of green beans and corn.
“I don’t know how sick of this I’ll get,” Lesch concludes, “or how fat I will get, eating all the MSGs and whatever else is in the Ramen…and all the fat in the pizza.”
The lack of nutrition available on a minimum wage budget struck Moorhead City Councilwoman Heidi Durand as well. “I can’t tolerate another can of condensed soup…I haven’t had fresh fruit or veggies since Wednesday,” she reported, “I know one thing: our minimum wage is not healthy!”
We’ve heard since we were children about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. The calcium, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folic acid, and other nutrients in fruits and vegetables are especially important for a child’s development, but also for adults to protect against osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, digestive problems, and even mental conditions like Alzheimer’s and depression.
Durand said she felt the emotional pressure even after just a few days. “[Living on minimum wage] is not emotionally healthy either. There were several moments where I felt completely dependent and helpless and the only thing that got me through was knowing it was temporary.”
The Minnesota legislative session will begin today, February 25. Tell the Minnesota Senate to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015.
Tags: hunger, minimum wage, minimum wage challenge, Minnesota, nutritional assistance
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Over the past week, five Minnesota lawmakers have taken the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge, calling attention to the struggles of low wage workers by living one week on a minimum wage budget.
But what about the executives of the companies that pay those low wages? Do they know what life is like on $7.25 or $8 an hour?
On Wednesday, February 19, workers who are contracted to clean Target stores joined Organizing for Action (OFA) for an event outside of the Target store in Minneapolis to call for a raise in wages for Minnesota workers. At the event, workers called on Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel to take our Working America Minimum Wage Challenge and try to live for one week on a budget from $7.25 per hour.
Maricela Flores, a mother of five who works for Carlson Building Maintenance cleaning a Target store, told of the stresses that come with poverty wages and asked Mr. Steinhafel to take the challenge.
“I am a single mother of 5 children trying to get by on the $8 an hour I am paid to clean a Target store,” Flores said, “It must be difficult for the CEO of Target, Gregg Steinhafel, to understand what it is like to be paid such low wages.”
“In 2012 Mr. Steinhafel made over $9,900 an hour–he does not have to live the constant reality of choosing between paying rent, food, clothes, health care,” said Flores, who is a member of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), a Twin Cities worker center. “We are calling on Mr. Steinhafel to take the ‘Working America Minimum Wage Challenge and live on $7.25 an hour for one week to understand what we face.”
Also speaking at the event was Enrique Barcenas, who works for Prestige Maintenance USA cleaning a Target store. He spoke of the need for homegrown companies like Target and powerful leaders like Mr. Steinhafel to take a lead to ensure that no one willing to work full time should have to live in poverty in our state.
“Every evening I work cleaning a Target store, surrounded by food and other necessities that I can’t afford to buy. The cost of living goes up every year, yet our wages remain stagnant,” said Barcenas, also a member of CTUL. “Now is the time for change. It is time for companies like Target to support fair wages for Minnesotan families. It is time for retail janitorial companies to recognize our right to organize.”
The group went into Target headquarters after the rally, but were not allowed to talk with Mr. Steinhafel. They left the guidelines for the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge with the security guards who blocked the entrance and asked for confirmation whether Mr. Steinhafel will accept the challenge to live a week in the shoes of a minimum wage worker. They were not given a response.
On February 25, the Minnesota AFL-CIO and community allies will rally at the Capitol Rotunda in Saint Paul to call on legislators to take action on raising the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015.
Photo by CTUL on Facebook
Tags: CTUL, minimum wage, minimum wage challenge, Minnesota, retail, Target
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Sometimes life throws you a curve ball that you weren’t expecting.
After spring-like weather earlier this week, Minnesota is getting hit with yet another in a series of snow storms. Already as of Friday morning, state troopers have responded to 174 car accidents, and schools from Mankato to St. Paul have closed for the day.
For minimum wage workers, snow storms are more than an inconvenience, as our Working America Minimum Wage Challenge participants are experiencing firsthand.
“I’m lucky,” wrote Minneapolis Rep. Frank Hornstein, ”I have a salaried job, so a snow day allows me to still earn an income. Minimum wage earners don’t have that luxury.”
For many low-wage workers, if work is shut down because of a snow storm, or their bus is severely delayed in the snow, that means they’re not getting paid. Snow days and unexpected circumstances mean one less meal to put on the table and one more bill that could go unpaid.
In Greater Minnesota, snow storms often hit low-wage workers even harder. Iron Range Rep. Jason Metsa, a two-year Minimum Wage Challenge participant, found this out last year when he tried to factor a car repair into his minimum wage budget.
“Most people would have a car payment, but luckily I don’t, because my car is a ’99,” he told us. With his insurance payment of $138 a month, he’s left with $32 a month for gas and maintenance.
One spin-out or collision with another car, like the 174 accidents already reported in this current storm, would mean a trip to the shop that would put him deep in the red.
It was sobering, Metsa told us, that he would literally have to take out a loan if he wanted to get home to the Iron Range. “This budget has no room for mistakes, no room for an emergency, and it’s almost an extra job to make sure I’m spending each penny wisely,” Metsa reflected.
Across the country, the stormy winter has thrown states into havoc, exemplified by the disastrous high-profile traffic jams in Atlanta. But what you won’t hear about in the news are the burdens borne by low-wage workers: the server who is fired because her delayed bus didn’t get her to work on time, the Walmart associate who sold her car to make a heating payment, or the thousands of children who skip meals on snow days because school is their only source of hot lunch.
256,000 Minnesotans currently make less than $9.50 an hour. For them, raising the minimum wage is about more than politics; it’s about the opportunity to weather whatever unexpected storm comes their way.
“Minneapolis Public Schools are closed today, people were just informed at 5:30 a.m. of that,” said Rep. Hornstein, “So they are choosing between the job they possibly can’t get to and having to scramble for child care.”
He added: “These are choices no one should have to make.”
Take action: Tell you representatives it’s time to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage.
Tags: Atlanta, Frank Hornstein, Georgia, jason metsa, minimum wage, minimum wage challenge, Minnesota
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All too often, political issues in Minnesota are presented as pitting the interests of the Twin Cities metro area against those of the rest of the state, also known as “Greater Minnesota.”
But despite the rhetoric, raising the minimum wage cuts across all geographic boundaries. Heidi Durand, a City Councilmember from Moorhead, Minnesota, just across the border from Fargo, North Dakota, discovered as much when she joined Working America’s Minimum Wage Challenge.
“I grew up in a working class home and I always knew my mom was an expert at stretching a dollar,” Councilwoman Durand told us, “And like a tidal wave, this challenge has brought her values back into my life.”
The minimum wage budget today 2014 is harder to stretch than it was when Durand’s was growing up. The value of the federal minimum wage of $7.25, adjusted for inflation, is worth $2 less today than it was in 1968.
If the minimum wage had risen with inflation since 1968, it would stand at around $10.50.
As part of our Minimum Wage Challenge, Durand went shopping in Moorhead with the weekly food budget of $35. Her haul included Ramen noodles, beef, eggs, and soup, bypassing more expensive fruits and vegetables. “It was disappointing to have to spend the bulk of my money on products that contain at least 35 percent of your daily allowance for sodium,” she told WDAZ, studying the nutrition facts on a can of soup.
“You think about one person and 35 dollars and think ‘well, that’s not that bad,” Durand added to KVLY, “but we’ll see…I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it on $35 this week.”
Councilwoman Durand, along with Minnesota Reps. Karen Clark, Frank Hornstein, John Lesch, Jason Metsa, and Shannon Savick, are taking our Challenge to raise awareness of the minimum wage; never forgetting that more than 256,000 Minnesota workers currently make less than $9.50 live that challenge every day, and don’t have the option of returning to a more secure lifestyle.
More than 63,000 Minnesota low-wage workers have at least one child who depends on them, stretching that $35 food budget even further.
This fact struck Rep. Jason Metsa, who represents part of Greater Minnesota’s Iron Range. Rep. Metsa took our Minimum Wage Challenge last year and is doing so again in 2014. “It would be even more challenging…if I had a family,” he said during his grocery trip, “I might have to make the hard choice, like giving up my car that requires insurance so that I could have a larger food budget for my kids.”
Later this week, our Minimum Wage Challenge participants will explore how they are able to stretch their transportation budgets. Some, like Minneapolis Rep. Frank Hornstein, can take public transportation to work at the Capitol, while Rep. Metsa has a three hour drive.
Tell the Minnesota Senate to pass HR 92 and raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015.
Tags: jason metsa, minimum wage, minimum wage challenge, Minnesota, North Dakota