It turns out that ostriches don’t actually bury their heads in the sand when they’re afraid – that’s just a myth. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Finance Committee of the Portland City Council.

For months now, the committee has hesitated to take action on Mayor Michael Brennan’s proposal to increase the minimum wage for Portland workers.

After five months of hearings and questions and hand-wringing, a vote was finally scheduled for last Thursday. But then the news trickled out: The committee had postponed the vote with little public notice.

The Finance Committee is demonstrating an astounding lack of leadership on this modest attempt to address the city’s growing inequality. The mayor’s proposal, introduced over six months ago, called for an initial wage increase to $9.50 an hour, to go into effect Jan. 1.

The committee has already delayed the process, so the earliest an increase can now take effect is July 1. Full-time workers earning the minimum wage have already lost over $800 in potential wages because of that decision, and by July, they will have lost over $2,000 from these delays.

That’s money that would have gone straight back into our local economy, because low-wage workers are more likely than others to spend their income on basic needs such as food and housing.

The last increase to the minimum wage was six years ago, but the cost of living in our city continues to grow. As our expenses for food, heat and housing continue to go up, shouldn’t working families see an increase in our wages to help pay for those most basic needs?

In previous hearings, Portland workers – many of whom are living paycheck to paycheck – have bravely stood up and spoken about the struggle of living on low wages in our city.

We heard from a server who never knew that her employer was supposed to make up the difference between her $3.75 tipped wage and the $7.50 state minimum wage when her tips failed to do so; a hotel clerk whose rent has doubled since 1999 while their wages have increased by just $2 an hour; and a homeless woman whose part-time jobs don’t earn her enough to make rent at all. Lives are on the line, and it’s time for Portland city councilors to do the right thing.

We call on the Finance Committee to stop stalling and start leading. This means voting to send the ordinance to the full council now, so that this next July 1 implementation date does not also pass us by.

Furthermore, to ensure that the ordinance makes a real difference to Portland’s struggling workers, it is vital that the committee support the original proposal of $9.50 an hour beginning July 1, $10.10 in 2016, and $10.68 in 2017 – with the minimum wage linked to the rate of inflation going forward.

Indexing to inflation is the only way to ensure that tomorrow’s lowest-wage earners don’t end up in the same predicament as those now: watching the years go by and their cost of living increase, while waiting in vain for elected leaders to muster the political will to raise the wage.

Last, any recommendation from the committee must also include all workers regardless of age, include a raise for tipped workers and have the teeth to make the law enforceable.

When we say that Portland is the economic engine of our state, it’s important to remember that people are the heart of that engine. We can’t get ahead when the cost of living outstrips wages.

A full-time worker earning Maine’s minimum wage will earn $15,600 per year, which falls $4,190 below the federal poverty level for a family of three. This modest increase will make a big difference in the lives of struggling Portland workers.

This reality has sparked municipalities across the nation to raise their local minimum wage.

Historically, Portland has been a leader on the most important issues of our times, taking bold action on civil rights and public health. Do we still see our city as a leader? Do we value each other? Will we take our heads out of the sand, stand tall and take action?

The people of Portland cannot accept an answer other than “Yes!” from our elected leaders. The cost of doing nothing is far, far too high.

We call on the Finance Committee, the City Council and Mayor Brennan to be the leaders Portland people need. Hold a final hearing on the minimum-wage proposal immediately, vote to move the full proposal forward and then implement it as soon as possible.

If we value our neighbors and our city, we simply cannot accept anything less.