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Common Cause cites cost of living

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Feb. 1, 2010) - Common Cause American Samoa has reiterated to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) their support of a minimum wage increase for workers in the territory, which the watch dog group says will help residents meet the rising cost of living.

Two top GAO officials were on island recently to follow up on a GAO team, who were here last year, to gather input regarding the impact of the federally mandated minimum wage increase on American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Common Cause president Dr. Trudie Iuli-Sala said the meeting with the two GAO officials, who wanted to know if the group maintains its stance from the previous meeting, and still supports the minimum wage hike and "we said yes."

"We have always felt that it would take an act of Congress to have the American Samoa Government consider a hike in the minimum wage, and no local public hearings have ever been held to allow for discourse on this matter," she said.

"Our stand— then and now— is to implement the next 50 cent [hike] bringing minimum wage to about US$5.26 per hour, and even if the American Samoa Government proposes a moratorium on any further hikes for the next five years, at least people can still afford the cost of living," she continued.

"Our supporters have talked about the hike in the cost of living, even for small mom & pop stores, that with every new shipment, there is a hike in wholesale items which they pass down to the consumer," she continued. "They talk about all the fees they find being charged in the American Samoa Government services and the fact that the airfare to/from Honolulu is now around US$1,100 round-trip."

Iuli-Sala says Common Cause supporters also brought up the issue of the US$25 food voucher issued once a month from the Territorial Administration on Aging, and wondered why it cannot be US$100 per month, to help with the high cost of goods.

"Many teachers believe it unfair that they make less than US$20,000 a year and still pay the same 2 percent [local] tax as those making more money and that the American Samoa Government could generate more local funds by creating a progressive tax schedule," she said. "They point out that the more money they earn the better social security benefits and retirement [benefit] checks they will make when they retire."

"These are some of the many things we told GAO," she added.

GAO, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, has until April this year to submit its first report on the impact study.

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