Shaheen praised for opposing minimum wage hike proposed by Sanders

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Kevin Landrigan, The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester
·2 min read
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Mar. 15—New Hampshire restaurant owners praised U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen for voting against making a minimum wage increase part of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Tom Boucher, the owner of the Great NH Restaurants chain, said he supports raising the minimum wage but not doubling it in the midst of a pandemic.

"I know you took a lot of arrows for the position you took on minimum wage. It was the right thing to do," Boucher told Shaheen during an online meeting with hospitality industry leaders from across the state.

"It needs to be a stand-alone bill," Boucher said. "I do agree we need to have some kind of attention to the teenaged wage. A 16- or 17-year-old should not be making the same as a 30-year-old minimum wage worker. We are raising wages every year. We are continuing that, 50 cents a year, getting up to a $15 an hour minimum wage in six years. That's the way to do it."

Shaheen and Sen. Maggie Hassan joined five other Democrats and Maine independent Angus King when the Senate rejected, 58-42, the bid of Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders to attach that wage hike to the COVID package.

"We need to increase the minimum wage," Shaheen said. "The question is how do we do that, and do it in a way that doesn't hurt businesses that are operating on a very small margin."

Shaheen said that later this spring the Small Business Administration will open applications for restaurants to apply for a piece of the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

The program offers grants of up to $5 million for individual restaurants and up to $10 million for restaurant groups.

Only restaurant chains with fewer than 20 locations would qualify for these grants, and publicly-traded companies of any size could not apply, according to an outline for this fund.

"It won't cover everybody's needs, but it will provide significant, additional help," Shaheen said.

Mike Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, said the relief package also kept in place an employee-retention tax credit for the rest of 2021 and extended paid leave through September.

"I think we are turning the corner and this will help us get there," Somers said

Amy Landers, executive director of the Lakes Region Tourism Association, said this summer's challenge will be finding enough workers to fill service jobs especially since a usual supply source — international employees — aren't likely to enter the country due to COVID-19.

"I am fearful we are going to lose several businesses because we won't have employees," Landers said.

Shaheen said she's urged the Biden administration to lift a Trump-era cap on the H1 visa program that limited this foreign-born work force.

"There may be a policy change," Shaheen added.

klandrigan@unionleader.com