LACONIA — "For me personally it's a moral thing," said State Senator Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia), who is among a group of senators championing legislation to reintroduce and increase the state minimum wage. "I believe it is a valid act of government to set a floor for wages."
Hosmer, accompanied by Jeff McLynch, executive director of the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute, brought his campaign to the offices of The Daily Sun yesterday. Two days earlier a bill to set a minimum hourly wage of $8.25 in 2015 rising to $9 in 2016 and thereafter adjusted to the cost of living carried the New Hampshire House of Representatives, 173 to 118.
In 2011, the Legislature repealed its own wage standard and currently the state is subject the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which amounts to $15,080 a year or less than $300 a week. Tipped employees may be paid a wage equal to 45-percent of the minimum wage, or $3.27 an hour.
McLynch singled out two shortcomings of the current minimum wage. First, the erosion of its purchasing power has left those working for the minimum wage unable to purchase basic necessities. Since 1979, he said that adjusted for inflation the purchasing power of the minimum wage has shrunk by 23 percent, or more than $2 per hour. Second, the state's minimum wage is the lowest among the New England states, where Vermont at $8.73 per hour is the highest followed by Connecticut at $8.70, Massachusetts and Rhode Island at $8 and Maine at $7.50. Moreover, all the other five states will likely have minimum wages of $9 or more within the next few years.
"Minimum wage workers are constantly falling farther and farther behind," Hosmer said. "They can't make ends meet." Stressing that "our goal should be to enable people to get off public assistance through work," he said that "a reasonable minimum wage should be part of our strategy."
The increases proposed in the bill, McLynch estimated would directly and indirectly raise the earnings of some 76,000 workers, including tipped employees, representing 12 percent of the state's workforce. He said that 48,000 currently earning less than $9 per hour would benefit directly while the wages of another 28,000 earning between $9 and $11 would also rise, although not as much.
Of these 76,000 people, McLynch said about three-quarters are 20 years old or older, about 60-percent are women, a third are full-time employees and 10,000 are parents. "The minimum wage is not just a starting wage," he said.
"These people are not savers, Hosmer noted. "They're spenders." Raising the minimum wage, he continued, would increase spending, particularly in the retail sector and "prime the pump" to hasten the recovery of the economy. McLynch projects that a minimum wage of $9 per hour would increase aggregate earnings in New Hampshire by $64 million.
At the same time, Hosmer suggested an increase in the minimum wage would decrease dependence on public assistance. McLynch referred to one study that found that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage could reduce enrollment in the food stamps program by as much as 3.2 percent and expenditures by 2 percent. Finally, Hosmer ventured that a higher minimum wage, comparable to those of neighboring states, could help to mitigate the rapid aging of the population by dissuading young people from leaving the state.
Hosmer described the bill before the Legislature as "a moderate approach," conceding that while a steeper increase may be warranted what he called "the political tolerances" could not be overlooked. Although the bill is opposed by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, representing small business, the New Hampshire Retail Merchants Association and the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association, Hosmer said that it enjoys the support of a "a strong and diverse coalition."
Last Updated on Saturday, 15 March 2014 12:27
GILFORD — As New Hampshire's winter grinds on and on, the local agency responsible for distributing federal fuel assistance has reached the bottom of its coffers.
According to Judy Scothorne, the program director of the Belknap-Merrimack Community Assistance Program division of energy, the $3.7 million Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program (LiHeap) is exhausted.
Scothorne said the total award to Belknap-Merrimack CAP was $4.4 million, however the state has only approved $3.7 million. The money, she said, has helped between 5,000 and 6,000 families supplement their fuel budgets this winter.
In addition, Citizen's Energy or "Joe-4 Oil" gave each county 33 slots that each provided a 100 gallons for people who qualified.
"That's just a gift," she said. "It's wonderful."
Although the cost of home heating oil has only risen about 20 cents to about $3.79 per gallon, she said the frigid temperatures coupled with a growing number of working poor people in central New Hampshire has really taken it toll.
Fuel assistance is determined by a matrix based in part on income and and the number of people in the household. A family of four that earns a total of $47,100 can qualify for the minimum subsidy of $150 a season she said. The average benefit is between $650 and $750 dollars and the maximum benefit is $1,100.
"What I see is people who don't make enough money to heat their homes in New Hampshire," Scothorne said.
"We've got a lot of working folks," she said. "They're the people who wait on you in the store and the people who are (chambermaids.)"
Scothorne said the soaring prices for kerosine and propane have made it harder for people who live in mobile homes to heat their homes this winter.
Gilford Finance Director Geoff Ruggles supervises the town's welfare office and said he has seen about eight people in the past two weeks who have exhausted their federal fuel assistance money but who still need fuel. He said many of the people the town helps are on fixed income or earn low incomes and many of them live in the town's mobile home parks.
"We give assistance regularly to families with two incomes," he said.
Both said that in many cases there isn't enough fuel assistance to meet the minimum delivery requirement of 100 to 150 gallons. At $3.99 per gallon, the March 10 average rate posted by the state Department of Energy, a family must come up with $598.50 for a single delivery of 150 gallons of oil.
Scothorne said there is one company that delivers smaller amounts of fuel but the cost of delivery is reflected in the price and they don't deliver kerosine.
Ruggles said a fair number of Gilford residents who have come in for assistance are elderly who often heat with kerosine, which the state said costs $4.39 per gallon.
Although demand is growing, Ruggles said they town budged $16,000 for heating assistance in 2014. In 2013, about $14,000 was budgeted for heating assistance and the town spent about $22,000, some of which came in November when the weather turned cold but the fuel assistance program was not yet available.
He also said the federal Housing and Urban Development standards for fuel oil use have been exceeded because of the lengthy and cold winter so people who would normally have enough gallons are running low.
"Many people are right on the edge," he said. "As to elderly people, well you can only ask them to turn down the thermostat so far."
Ruggles said that people have taken to calling the town when they are completely out of kerosine and said the town has had to tell them to buy diesel fuel to get by until the paperwork in the town's welfare office is completed.
"We have to use some discretion," he said.
Last Updated on Saturday, 15 March 2014 12:08
BELMONT — A local couple hopes to add an education angle to their home-based farm by hosting small private agricultural camps for children at their Bean Hill Road home.
Frederick and Tina Fleming have asked the Planning Board to give them permission to use their farming buildings for the day camps.
"We just want to share our knowledge," said Tina Fleming who is a reading teacher at Laconia Middle School. She said the planning process requires a change of use because of the commercial component of running the camp.
The Flemings have been farming for years and operate a small family farm. Tina said they have some chickens, pigs, goats, pigs, and lambs with some gardens as well.
She said the goal of the educational program is to bring very small groups of children to the farm and have them experience farming in a personal way.
"So many children don't even know where their food comes from," she said.
As teacher, she said she hopes to integrate agriculture and reading into the camp curriculum. She said she would do special programs and have various experts in different types of agriculture — like bee keeping — come to the farm and give short talks.
"I just want to share that knowledge," she said.
She said she hopes the camp will be very hands on — something that will give children the real experience of farming and learning about the food chain.
One of her goals is to teach safety around animals. She said she has two horses and wants to teach youths about leading them and feeding them.
The farm has three Nigerian goats that will "freshen" and give birth sometime in late June or July. "I want children to learn to bottle-feed a baby goat," she said.
The Flemings have some chickens — broilers and layers — and she said part of the camp could be learning how to gather eggs in the morning.
She said the farm has some sheep and lambs — for both wool and meat — and said one of the classes would be sheering and making wool.
"It's just going to be a seasonal thing," she said, adding that she will continue to teach reading during the school year. "I really want to introduce children to agriculture."
"The key," she said, "is keeping it small."
The Planning Board will review her proposal on March 24 at their regular meeting. The Flemings' plan has already be reviewed by a planning review committee designed to help people through the town's planning process.
Last Updated on Friday, 14 March 2014 12:55
CONCORD — Only three members of the Belnap County Delegation voted in favor when the New Hampshire House of Representatives yesterday voted to reject a bill to authorize one casino to operate slot machines and table games at a location in the southeastern quarter of the state. The vote was 173 to 144.
Democrats Lisa DiMartino of Gilford and Ruth Gulick of New Hampton were joined by Republican Dennis Fields of Sanbornton in support of the bill.
Ten Republicans — Reps. Richard Burchell of Gilmanton, Guy Comtois of Barnstead, Jane Cormier and Stephen Holmes of Alton, Don Flanders, Bob Luther and Frank Tilton of Laconia, Bob Greemore and Herb Vadney of Meredith and Michael Sylvia of Belmont — and two Democrats — Reps. David Huot of Laconia and Ian Raymond of Sanbornton — voted against the bill.
Reps. Beth Arsenault (D-Laconia), Charles Fink (R-Belmont) and Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) were absent and did not vote.
Without roll call votes the House also scuttled two other bills to expand gambling by permitted as many as six venues with video lottery machines.
A Senate bill, sponsored by Senators Lou D'Allesandro (D-Manchester) and Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia) was amended and endorsed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee then tabled in the Senate.
Last Updated on Friday, 14 March 2014 12:49
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