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Small businesses fear they can't afford Virginia minimum wage increase

(WCYB/Caleb Perhne)

A bill in Virginia’s General Assembly is pushing to more than double the minimum wage, but small business owners fear they can’t afford it.

For many people working under the federal minimum wage, providing for a family can be difficult.

"It's really hard, especially with rent and utility bills,” Branden Howell said. “With minimum wage right now, you can't even cover the basics."

Companion bills in Virginia’s House and Senate aim to fix that by increasing the minimum wage to as high as $15 an hour.

"It's been long enough,” Anne Franklin said. “It's been stagnant for too long. It needs to be raised. I'm all for it."

The Senate version passed committee this week. It plans to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 an hour by July, $13 in 2020 and $15 by 2021.

The House version would increase the minimum to $10.10 immediately with increases every two years based on the consumer price index.

"You look at many businesses. Are they growing at those levels?” small business owner Karen Hester said. “Probably not."

Hester pays her employees more than minimum wage, but she fears she won’t be able to afford $15.

Republican Sen. Ben Chafin of Lebanon voted against the bill for that reason.

"We will see significant layoffs,” Chafin said. “We will see people possibly get their hours cut, so that they would be exempted from some of these measures."

Hester said, "There comes a line between exactly how much you can spend and how much profit you can make or if you can make any profit at all."

Hester said she may have to cut some products or consider whether to even stay in business.

The bill is set to go for a full Senate vote. The House version will need to pass the commerce and labor committee before going for a full vote. Eventually, the two must compromise.

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