- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Low-wage workers urged New Hampshire lawmakers Tuesday to raise the minimum wage above the federal rate of $7.25 an hour so they could afford basic necessities.

Anita Mendes, 67, who lives in the Monadnock region, told a House committee she supplements her Social Security income with a minimum-wage job 18 hours a week, despite having a master’s degree in social work. She also said her 90-year-old mother helps her make ends meet.

“At such a low income, survival means keeping the heat in my house at 62 degrees. Survival means figuring out how to use as little electricity as possible, leaving one light on in the evening. Survival means relying on free community suppers in my area,” she said.

A few dollars more a week would help pay the costs of washing her clothes at the laundromat since she can’t afford to fix her washer and dryer and give her money to go out to an occasional dance or other social event, she said.

Laurel Redden of Housing Action New Hampshire said people making minimum wage don’t earn enough to afford renting most apartments in the state. She said the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,018 - far above the $400 a typical minimum wage worker could afford. Government subsidies cannot solve the housing problems facing the poor without businesses playing a role, she said.

But business groups opposed raising the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour next year and to $9 in 2016 as proposed in the bill before the committee. They objected even more to a provision that indexed future increases to inflation. They said businesses should decide what to pay workers based on competition with other employers.

Curtis Barry, a lobbyist who represents the Retail Merchants Association of New Hampshire, said raising the wage for the lowest-paid workers would put pressure on businesses to increase wages for higher earners. Barry said businesses also would pay higher taxes if the minimum wage is increased. As a result, businesses would cut employees’ hours or not hire new workers.

Barry said tying future increases to inflation would mean raising the minimum wage even in bad economic times.

“This is not the right way to address poverty,” he said.

But Gail Mitchell, who owns Accident Analysis Associates with her husband, said workers paid less than the minimum wage aren’t motivated to work in the best interests of her business. She said they pay some of their contract workers $25 an hour.

Bruce Berke, representing the National Federation of Independent Business, said many small businesses already pay above the federal minimum wage. He suggested considering a training wage below the minimum.

The Legislature eliminated the state’s minimum wage law in 2011, which means the federal minimum wage is the state’s minimum. Lawmakers rejected restoring the state wage last year.

Even if the bill passes the Democratically controlled House, its chances of passing the Republican-led Senate are slim.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, supports the bill.

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