FILE - NJ worker, Summit 10-17-2020

A restaurant worker with a spray bottle and cloth cleans an outdoor table Oct. 17, 2020, in Summit, New Jersey. Content Exchange

(The Center Square) – New Jersey’s minimum wage increased to $12 per hour for most workers starting Jan. 1.

When asked about the wage increase during a media briefing last week, Gov. Phil Murphy said the state cannot afford to delay the increase and said the state needs more help from the federal government.

“Some folks have said, ‘hey, listen, given the circumstances that we’re under, should that be reconsidered?’ And the answer is, it can’t be,” Murphy said.

“We need more federal help to help us help our small businesses, and we need to let the minimum wage continue to go on its march toward $15” per hour, the governor added. “We have far too many people in our state living below the poverty line.”

However, some Republican lawmakers said the wage increase amid the COVID-19 pandemic would be detrimental to small businesses in the Garden State. The minimum wage previously increased to $11 per hour at the start of 2020.

“Our small businesses are suffering, livelihoods that took a lifetime to build in pursuit of the American dream have been crippled, and if this minimum wage increase proceeds, it certainly won’t be COVID that is to blame,” state Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso, R-Monmouth, said in a news release.

The updated wage law includes an exception for some employees, such as those who earn tips. The wage will increase by $1 per hour annually and hit $15 per hour on Jan. 1, 2024, and will continue to rise based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

“We all want everyone to have the opportunity to prosper and to make as much money as possible,” state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said in a news release. “Some increase to the minimum was justifiable back in 2019 when we enacted it. But rigid, substantial ongoing increases – with no flexibility or safety valve in the face of economic downturn – were ill advised when enacted and totally counter-productive now. To increase economic stress on businesses desperately struggling to survive, desperately struggling to avoid laying people off, is insanity.”

O’Scanlon called for “an emergency session to pass legislation suspending the increase for at least six months.”

According to an analysis from Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory U.S, 25 states, including New Jersey, will raise the minimum wage in 2021, including 21 increases taking effect on Jan. 1.

“Too many workers aren’t earning enough to make ends meet especially during the current public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said in a statement. “Continuing to gradually raise the minimum wage provides help for New Jersey residents and future generations and aids in alleviating poverty across our great state.”

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