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Rachel Belle

Seattle nonprofits say a $15 minimum wage could kill them

The $15 an hour minimum wage conversation always seems to focus on one thing: People who work at restaurants. But of course, there are many other industries that employ people at minimum wage, many of them nonprofits and human services that the poorest people depend on.

Take a government subsidized preschool, like where Johnny Otto is director - at Small Faces Child Development Center. He's also a member of the Child Care Directors Association of Greater Seattle.

He said if minimum wage is raised to $15 an hour, "Fifty percent of centers, in my estimation, would be forced to significantly raise tuition rates. They would have to consider not accepting subsidy children in order to meet their budgetary goals. Several centers would have no choice but to simply shut down. Those centers are serving low-income communities. All of this together would add to the shortage we're already experiencing in high quality preschool education for children in this city."

To be clear, Johnny and the Seattle Human Services Coalition are in favor of raising the minimum wage.

"Preschool teachers are currently very low paid for the professionals that they are. Raising, even just to the $15 an hour, would be a huge jump for a lot of preschool teachers. We've been doing this recent survey with the Center Directors Association and the results we're getting back is something like 30 percent of childcare centers, in the city of Seattle, have zero teachers being paid $15 an hour or more."

These are college-educated workers taking care of our children, not the fast-food workers that we often hear about when discussing this issue. But Johnny said if they do raise minimum wage, in order to keep schools and services from shutting down, the government must fill in the financial gaps.

"So the way that the city is going to need to think about responding to this is by increasing the amounts that they're offering in these contracts in a way that reflects the increases in pay that they're asking for," he said.

It's not just schools. There is a laundry list of crucial programs that would suffer.

"We may need to eliminate shelter beds and daytime services for mentally homeless individuals, close senior lunch programs, cut services to youth and families," Johnny said, and he read off a list of about 20 programs.

Last week I told you about an amazing nonprofit called Pioneer Human Services, a company that teaches ex-cons skills and gives them jobs in their manufacturing plant when nobody else will.

Pioneers's Vice President of Policy and Communications, Hilary Young, said raising the minimum wage would kill them.

"I think $15 an hour minimum wage sounds really good on its face, but the impact to nonprofits like ours would be significant. Really, our state programs? The contracts wouldn't support a $15 an hour wage. So we'd have to reconsider whether or not we can even be in that business. It would virtually eliminate the job training program that we have. There aren't other resources out there that serve this population now so it's just even fewer options for people."

The Seattle Human Services Coalition is calling for a three year phase-in for human service nonprofits.

Rachel Belle, Ron and Don Show Reporter
Rachel Belle is a feature contributor and personality on The Ron & Don Show on KIRO Radio (weekdays 3-7pm), and host of Ring My Belle Weekends (Sundays at 3pm).
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Rachel Belle's "Ring My Belle" segment airs Monday-Friday on The Ron & Don Show at 4:37pm and 6:37pm. You can hear "Ring My Belle Weekends" Saturdays at 5:00pm Sundays at 3:00pm. Rachel is a northern California native who loves anything and everything culinary, playing Scrabble, petting cats and performing improv.

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