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MASON CITY | Individual states should set their own minimum wages rather than having the federal government do it for all, state Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, said Monday.

Ernst was in Mason City to meet with business leaders at the North Iowa Regional Commerce Center.

In an interview with the Globe Gazette beforehand, she expanded on her belief that states should decide their own minimum wage standards.

Ernst, 44, is the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Tom Harkin. 

Her position on the minimum wage has become a key campaign issue since her opponent in the November election, U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, doesn't hesitate to tell prospective voters she is against raising it.

 "The minimum wage is a safety net. For the federal government to set the minimum wage for all 50 states is ridiculous," Ernst said Monday.

"The standard of living in Iowa is different than it is in New York or California or Texas. One size does not fit all," she said.

She also took issue with Braley's claim that she wants to privatize Social Security.

"The first thing is we need to protect Social Security for our seniors and those approaching their Social Security years," said Ernst. "But we also need to look long-term and recognize something needs to be done to protect it."

She said there is no question that Social Security funding will be in trouble if changes are not made.

"We need to find a way. We need to address a situation when we see a situation," she said.

Braley said Monday that Ernst wants to end federal student loans and Pell Grants.

Ernst said that just as with Social Security, she is in favor of having a discussion on how the federal student loan program can be restructured and improved. She wants to do more research before having that discussion.

Ernst said she knows the value of student loans because she received them when she was in school.

"I am about finding solutions," she said. "The Democrats are about burying their head in the sand."

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