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Faith leaders urge support of federal minimum wage legislation
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON  -- A group of religious leaders stressed the moral obligation to raise the federal minimum wage in an April 29 letter to Congress, describing increased wages as "indispensable to ensuring that no worker will suffer the indignity of poverty."

The letter was released the day before the Senate was to vote on increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2016.

"We respect the dignity of our neighbors who toil under the yoke of today's unjust minimum wage, and we call on our elected leaders to ease their burden by making the minimum wage a family wage," said the letter, organized by public policy groups Interfaith Worker Justice and Faith in Public Life and signed by about 5,000 people including more than 30 prominent religious leaders known for their work on social issues.

In an April 29 teleconference announcing the letter's release, religious and political leaders further emphasized why better pay is not just an economic issue but also a justice concern among people of many faith traditions.

Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, said the principles of Catholic social teaching call attention to how public policy affects the least among us.

He also said that Catholic Charities agencies want to "lift people out of poverty" not support more of them who cannot make ends meet because their full-time jobs do not provide enough for basic family needs.

Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice in Chicago, emphasized that all of the great prophets "condemned wealth disparity." She noted that faith traditions are united in their support to increase the minimum wage primarily because of their tradition of caring "for the least among us" but also from the work they do each day sponsoring soup kitchens and programs that provide for those in need where she said they often see "people coming in that shouldn't have to."

She said faith leaders and advocates for working people are writing letters, taking part in prayer vigils at state capitols, meeting with government leaders and writing bulletin inserts on this issue.

The minimum wage bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, would increase the current $7.25 hourly minimum wage in three steps, raising it to $8.20 six months after enactment, $9.15 after a year and $10.10 a year after that. The minimum wage would then automatically increase annually with inflation.

If the bill passes both houses of Congress, it would give an automatic raise to an estimated 16.5 million workers, according to a Congressional Budget Office study issued in February.

The bill is expected to win backing from nearly all Senate Democrats and only from a few Republicans, likely falling short of the 60 votes needed to begin debate of the bill.

This year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 21 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages that are higher than the current federal minimum wage, while 19 states have minimum wages equal to the federal rate. Thirty-eight states considered minimum wage bills during the 2014 session and 34 states are considering increases to the state minimum wage laws.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, noted during the teleconference that "progress is about persistence" and said the Labor Department would help religious leaders "in any way" with promoting this issue.

He thanked the advocates for their "doggedness" in "imparting the moral urgency on this issue" and said their role has been "indispensable" particularly since teachings in all religious traditions consistently emphasize human dignity and "enjoying the fruits of one's labor."

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