When we think about infrastructure, we generally think about the money needed to improve our nation’s roads, bridges, and broadband, but we also need to think about what we need to support “human infrastructure.” In order to ensure a sustainable long-term recovery from the pandemic, we must tackle the structural obstacles small businesses and their employees face. This means robust funding and investments in paid family and medical leave, healthcare, and child care — benefits entrepreneurs and their workers struggled to access even before the pandemic. While the current package to expand these programs is facing an uncertain future in Congress, it’s important to note that small businesses are strongly supportive of its key measures. Here’s why.
Small businesses across the country want to grow their businesses and experience the rewards from their hard work. I have heard stories from small salon owners in Arizona to human resource consultants in West Virginia, all wanting the same thing: an opportunity to compete in a market that has unfairly favored larger companies. Providing their employees – who they’ve often referenced as an extended family – benefits such as paid family and medical leave is a critical component to shoring up a stronger workforce. Most small businesses don’t have the resources to offer robust benefits that will be competitive with larger companies, putting them at a disadvantage in a tight job market.
That’s why 70% of small business owners and operators support establishing a federal program to guarantee access to paid family and medical leave. A federal paid family and medical leave program would give employees the time off and medical support they need and would also save small businesses from paying for leave out of pocket, thus taking away from the extra money they could pay for overtime or temporary staff. Congress has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to modernize our federal paid family and medical leave program and put small businesses on a more level playing field to compete for top talent.
At the same time, working mothers, fathers, and small business owners know that our nation’s failing infrastructure has exacerbated problems with our business ecosystems. The absence of paid leave has whittled away at small businesses’ bottom lines and also spotlighted the need for greater solutions that deliver access to essential benefits like affordable child care. As child care centers closed during the pandemic, parents were forced to leave the workforce, creating a domino effect that impacted small businesses dependent on these workers to help keep their businesses afloat.
Although Congress took some steps to address the needs of small business owners by funding emergency small business loans, these measures were not comprehensive, nor did they ensure that all small businesses were able to recover. Many childcare providers are themselves small businesses owned by women, immigrants and/or people of color. They were left out of the pandemic relief programs. These entrepreneurs and their employees in under-resourced communities deserve access to quality and affordable child care for themselves and to ensure they can attract and retain skilled workers. The measures in the proposed human infrastructure plan will address these challenges by providing robust investments in bold child care initiatives such as making the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit expansion permanent and ensuring that families earning 1.5 times their state median income pay no more than 7% of their income on child care for all children under the age of 5. Sixty-eight percent and 63% of small businesses support these solutions, respectively.
It’s also critical that Congress take steps to address small businesses’ challenges accessing healthcare, particularly as more than 1 in 3 small business owners have struggled to access health coverage for themselves and their employees during the pandemic. Access to affordable, quality healthcare significantly impacts small businesses because they and their employees have historically comprised a disproportionate share of the working uninsured. With nearly half of entrepreneurs identifying healthcare costs as being one of the top barriers to maintaining or growing their business, small business owners are looking for assistance in addressing any healthcare challenges on the horizon. These costs are particularly challenging right now as a recent poll found that 38% of small businesses say their business conditions are on the decline compared to the previous month.
That’s why small business owners support making permanent the premium assistance provided by the American Rescue Plan and included in the human infrastructure package. This assistance will be vital to strengthening access to quality healthcare and lowering costs for small business owners, employees, and sole proprietors who collectively comprise more than half of the participation in the healthcare marketplaces.
America’s job creators deserve bold policies to help them compete with large corporations and grow their businesses while supporting significant investments in paid family and medical leave, healthcare, and child care. The proposed investments in the human infrastructure package will better position small business owners to provide themselves and their employees with benefits to attract and retain a readied workforce.
This past year’s plunging revenues have driven too many small businesses to the brink of collapse. If lawmakers are serious about helping small businesses recover, Congress must swiftly pass the human infrastructure package to ensure a successful path forward for our economy. Small businesses are critical to the nation’s economic recovery and are the lifeblood of our most vulnerable communities. These policies are needed to sustain a thriving, equitable business ecosystem.