For five days, Broward County Commissioner Martin Kiar will know what its like to rely on coupons and sales, only shopping for the necessities that a minimum wage budget will allow.
He's trying on the wallet of folks like Marc Gattereau. With a family of four to support, Gattereau makes $7.79 an hour, the State minimum wage to do maintenance work at Fort Lauderdale Airport.
"For me it's nothing. It's nothing. I can't do anything with $7.79," Gattereau said.
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For him, it often means being late on bills like running water.
"Three days ago they cut off my water. It was cut," he said.
Gattereau is helping Commissioner Kiar spend his budget of $106 dollars for the week. Using a calculator from the Economic Policy Institute, he figured it's what's left after taxes, rent, and bills are paid to spend on food, travel and entertainment. Kair admits he rarely thinks twice about the price of food items at the store, until now.
"Thousands of folks from South Florida every single day have to worry about feeding their families," he said.
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State Senator Dwight Bullard, who represent the 39th District, is also taking on the challenge in Miami-Dade. The calculator determined that he would only have $52 to spend on food, travel and leisure.
"I'm left with $1.50 for the remainder of my five days," he said, after spending most of his money on groceries.
Lucky for him, his car already had a full tank. The 39th district is large. If the gas in the tank runs out, it will mean putting his bus pass to use.
And Gattereau said forget about any money left over for entertainment.
"No way to enjoy yourself, no way to go on a vacation," he said.
"It seems insignificant when you realize someone is literally budgeting to live," Bullard said, mentioning the weekly movie he sometimes treats himself to.
The commissioner and state senator want congress to increase the Federal minimum wage. Bullard says he wants it to happen at the state level too.
"If we want to lead the nation in something, lead the nation in a livable wage, I'm asking for an in-state increase up to $8.35," he said.
Critics have argued that increasing the minimum wage could lead to job loss among low-wage workers. In Washington, D.C., a standoff between Walmart and city officials highlights just how ugly the battle can get. The city wants big box retailers like Walmart to pay employees more. The retailer has threatened to cancel plans to open three of its six new stores in the area if the bill passes.
Commissioner Kair argues increasing wages would be good for our economy.
"Studies have shown, people making lower wages, if you put another dollar in their pocket they'll spend that on food, on other necessities," he said. "That's going to put money in our economy, that will create jobs."
For folks like Gattereau, living on minimum wage isn't a one-week trial, it's a daily struggle, and every dollar counts.
"We can't survive like this, we can't stay like that," he said.
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