MIAMI
07/19/2013 09:08 am ET Updated Jul 19, 2013

South Florida Minimum Wage Challenge: Dwight Bullard, Marty Kiar Live On Little For One Week (VIDEO)

Marc Gattereau cleans airplanes at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. He also has a wife and three children. But with an hourly wage of $7.79, he says he can't even pay his rent, keep up with his bills, or provide groceries.

Three days ago, the water was cut off at the home he rents in Sunrise.

"My wife has a part-time job, too," Gattereau said. "But it's still nothing. I can't buy food, it's the worst for me to put gas in my car and drive back and forth to Fort Lauderdale airport, I have no healthcare, I don't have anything... We have no way to save."

It's a predicament his Broward County Commissioner, Marty Kiar, is trying out this week. Both Kiar and state Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Miami) are living on minimum wage for seven days, with a budget based on the high costs of living in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. The challenge is organized by 1Miami, a coalition of community groups, faith-based organizations and workers focused on jobs, education, and healthcare.

And it isn't easy: according to a recent MIT study, an employee in Broward County must earn at least $11.72 an hour, working full-time, in order to just support themselves. To support a child, an hourly wage of $22.95 is required to meet daily expenses.

But a full-time job at $7.79 equates to an annual salary of $16,203 -- nearly $3,000 lower than the federal poverty line for a family of three. For Gattereau, it's $10,807 below the poverty line established for a family of five, putting his family squarely among the 949,910 people in South Florida who aren't sure where their next meal is coming from.

Tuesday, both politicians met up with minimum wage workers in their districts to shop for groceries. Kiar and Gattereau hit up Bravo Supermarket in Sunrise, and Bullard was joined at a Winn-Dixie in Miami by Ida Tyson, who works for Chartwells in food service at the University of Miami.

"We had to put some things back," Tyson said.

Kiar, who earns $92,000 annually as a commissioner, had a budget of $40 for a week's worth of groceries. Gone were flowers for his wife, his 4-year-old daughter's favorite smoothies, and a full tank for his "gas guzzler"; in their place were rice, plantains, peanut butter and jelly combined in one jar, bread on sale, and family entertainment at the public park playground. (Story continues below.)

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Marty Kiar Minimum Wage Challenge
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Wednesday, he took the bus in the pouring rain (watch the video above) with Marie Desauguste, whose commute from North Lauderdale to her minimum wage job at the airport requires a 3-hour public commute each way -- a total of six hours getting to and from every shift. "If I had a living wage," she said, "I could afford a car payment or a used car... A living wage would be very fair to us."

Both Miami-Dade and Broward have living wage laws, though they apply only to county-contracted business and not to employers like Gattereau's and Desauguste's. And earlier this year, the Florida House passed a Disney- and Darden Restaurants-backed bill that would have nullified living wage laws already on the books and effectively slashed the pay of local workers by up to 40 percent. Conservative legislators argued that companies doing business in Florida shouldn't face a "patchwork" of wage laws to do business in the state.

Though the language was eventually wiped from the bill, Kiar said he was horrified by the attempt to repeal living wage laws, noting that it costs far more to live in South Florida than other parts of the state -- and the minimum wage isn't high enough to make ends meet in either county.

"We need to have that raised to at least a living wage so that people can make ends meet," he said. "And I'll tell you, it's great for the economy. Studies have shown that low-income folks really trying to make ends meet, if you put another dollar in their pocket, they're going to spend that on food, they're going to spend that on necessities. That's going to put money into the economy, that's going to create jobs. It's a win-win for for business, it's a win-win for our community, it's a win-win for our people."

"As much as you have, you have to spend more," Gattereau explained. "But it's not enough."

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