The New Year will bring some relief for New York's working poor, who will get a raise when the minimum wage increases to $8 an hour Wednesday.
The rise from $7.25 an hour is among several new laws that will touch New Yorkers.
The new laws include requiring background checks for the purchase of ammunition beginning Jan. 15 as part of a landmark gun control measure; new tax cuts for businesses; a push for hepatitis C testing of Americans born between 1945 and 1965 after a federal report found that the vast majority of people with the disease are in the baby boomer age group; and a stronger "pet lemon law" that provides more time for new owners to spot some medical defects.
The rise in the minimum wage was a major victory in the 2013 session for Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The law emerged from a bitter battle with Senate Republicans, with each side fighting for its political base.
Backers called it a major win for the working poor. But advocates increasingly are saying the law comes up short, as President Barack Obama pursues a $10-an-hour federal rate.
Ting Sang, 49, and her husband left China six years ago, and they're raising two children who are attending school in Manhattan's Chinatown. She says rent is $1,400 a month and she makes about $1,500 a month with overtime hours from her job selling side dishes from a cart in a Chinatown restaurant. So if her husband misses any days on his construction job, "there is no money," Sang said through a translator.
Sang considers the increase in the minimum wage "very important to her right now," said the interpreter, Jin Ming Cha, of the Chinese Staff and Workers Association in Manhattan.
The minimum wage law passed by the legislature in 2013 will increase the rate in stages to $9 an hour over three years. For minimum wage workers like Sang, that will mean about $1,560 more in 2014.
"A lot of workers who make the current minimum wage say this increase that Cuomo is approving in his new law is ridiculous given the cost of raising a family," said JoAnn Lum, of National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, an advocacy group for the working poor in New York City.
The rise in the minimum wage comes with a tax credit for small businesses to offset part of the cost. It is among several business tax breaks born from heated compromise with Senate Republicans. The conference that shares majority control of the Senate called the Democrats' high priority of raising the minimum wage a job killer, and argued that employers need help in the slow economic recovery.
Small businesses and manufacturers will get much of the break in taxes spread over three years.
Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos said the tax cuts are needed to help families and encourage job growth.
Silver said Monday he will propose a faster increase in the state minimum wage, to $9 an hour by the end of 2014. Under the law taking effect Wednesday, the next increase will come on Dec. 31, 2015, when the minimum wage rises to $9 an hour.
"New York's hardworking men and women are struggling and they cannot afford to wait two more years for a decent raise," Silver said. "Poverty is not a fair reward for those who work a full-time job."
Kelly Cummings, Skelos' spokeswoman, said, "We're perplexed that the Speaker would cite as inadequate a law that he helped negotiate with the governor and Senate just last year. We have no interest in revisiting the issue at this time."