PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee signed legislation on Thursday that will increase Rhode Island’s minimum wage to $15 over a four-year period.

“It’s just common sense, right? Especially as we’re dealing with coming out of the COVID-19, and knowing how important the people who are working in our small businesses are to our small businesses,” McKee remarked Thursday morning.

“If there was ever a time that we know that that’s true, it’s true,” he added.

The state’s minimum wage has been $11.50 since last October when former Gov. Gina Raimondo signed a bill that raised wages by $1.

“Raising the minimum wage will benefit thousands of workers, and we need this progress now more than ever,” McKee said.

According to McKee, the R.I. Department of Labor and Training estimates the new law will raise wages for approximately 70,000 workers by 2022, and approximately 140,000 workers by 2025. 

“The boost in wages will go back into our local community, supporting small businesses in all of the 39 cities and towns that we call home,” McKee added.

With McKee’s signature Thursday, the state’s minimum wage will now increase to $12.25 on Jan. 1, 2022, $13 in 2023, $14 in 2024, then $15 by 2025.

“It’s an important step in the effort to help lift Rhode Island families and support many of essential workers who put themselves at risk to keep our state safe, especially during this time during the pandemic,” McKee said.

McKee also noted how the new law is aligned with other states increasing minimum wages to $15.

“As we continue to get shots in the arms and look forward to an economic recovery, we have a once in a lifetime chance to reset Rhode Island to work for Rhode Islanders,” he added.

McKee was joined by Lt. Gov Sabina Matos, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, along with bill sponsors Rep. David A. Bennett and Sen. Ana Quezada.

Lt. Gov. Matos said raising the minimum wage has “been fight that has been taken on for many, many, many years.”

“As we saw last year in the pandemic, there is a lot of needs in the state of Rhode Island for the working family,” Matos said. “Today’s legislation will give hope to our state workforce.”

Matos acknowledged how for some working families, they have a choice between paying the rent or putting food on the table.

“By raising the minimum wage, the residents of our state have another opportunity to have more security for them and their family,” she added.

Rep. David Bennett, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the bill is “a leap towards a fairer, healthier, safer and more prosperous Rhode Island.”

“At last, Rhode Island is on the path to breaking the cycle of poverty for those at the bottom of the wage spectrum,” Bennett said.

Bennett says minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation over the decades.

“It’s value today is about 25% less than what it was in 1968,” he said, adding that its value affects families.

“It’s not just teenagers who work minimum wage, low wage jobs. Many people are supporting families on low wage jobs, often working two three [jobs] to make ends meet, and while their kids are alone” Bennett said. “This is no life.”

“One of the reasons we have minimum wage is to prevent this sort of thing from happening,” he added.

Sen. Ana Quezada also sponsored the legislation, which she says is very close to her heart.

“When I came to this country many years ago, I was one of those workers who worked for minimum wage in New York City,” Sen. Quezada said.

“This legislation will be very important for minorities and women who are overrepresented in low wage income jobs and underrepresented in high wage jobs,” Quezada added.

The Economic Policy Institute estimates if a $15 minimum wage was implemented nationwide, it would impact 31% of African Americans and 26% of the Latino population in the United States.

“It’s good for the economy, it’s good for the state, and most of all, it’s good for the people in Rhode Island,” she added.