Help needed: Small businesses deserve better from Washington

Syracuse Post Standard Guest Opinion by Rep. Claudia Tenney (NY-22)

Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, represents the 22nd Congressional District.

I have met with more than 100 small businesses across our community over the last two months. Most of them have had an incredibly challenging year, but they are all looking forward to the recovery and being open for business. The only problem? Washington won’t get out of their way.

As a small business owner, I know the stress of meeting a bottom line. I understand the sleepless nights worrying about how to provide for your employees. That’s why my priority as a member of the House Small Business Committee has been to deliver assistance to small businesses and workers. I supported the bipartisan PPP Extension Act that President Biden signed into law earlier this year, which extended the Payroll Protection Program through May.

But the government giveth and the government taketh away. The path to recovery for small businesses faced a new hurdle when Speaker Nancy Pelosi rushed to pass the American Rescue Plan Act.

This bill increased unemployment benefits just as Americans were starting to return to work. House Republicans argued that increasing unemployment benefits as the economy was reopening would hurt the recovery. According to one study, 40 percent of the workforce could end up making more off these supplemental benefits than if they returned to work, ultimately slowing our comeback.

But Speaker Pelosi forged ahead, and now small businesses are paying the price.

Nearly every small business I have talked to has told me that their biggest challenge is not finding people able to work, but finding people willing to work. Potential new hires are making more on unemployment than they would in full-time jobs that are paying above minimum wage.

This is a huge problem for small businesses in our community looking to hire and reopen.

Sherrill Manufacturing, a flatware producer in Oneida County, told me recently that while demand for their Made in America flatware has never been stronger, their biggest issue by far is finding employees to increase production. “Despite the Administration’s spin after last week’s disappointing jobs report,” they said, “the fact is that businesses are starving for employees and our government is paying them to stay home. It needs to end now.”

Another local company in Broome County, Curcio Printing, told me that the extended federal unemployment benefits are hampering their ability to operate at full capacity.

A survey by the National Federation of Independent Business found that 42 percent of small businesses nationwide have jobs they can’t fill — the highest percentage ever reported since they started tracking this statistic. In the most recent jobs report out on May 7, the economy added only 266,000 new jobs, despite the fact that there are more than 8 million job openings across the country.

This is exactly what happens when Washington rushes to solve problems without listening to small employers — they end up creating new ones. I support a bill in Congress to fix it. The Reopening America by Supporting Workers and Businesses Act would extend one-time bonuses to those who return to work, while increasing funding for reemployment resources and services to help them. The bill also restores federal job search requirements for unemployment, which were waived during the pandemic.

The bill is a better way of helping workers and boosting our economy. But it faces an uphill battle in Congress. With Democrats in control of both the House and Senate, their focus isn’t on getting Americans back to work, but on making what should be temporary emergency assistance permanent.

The threats to our economic recovery do not stop there. Now Biden is pitching tax hikes that would increase the burden on small employers. One proposal would eliminate what is known as “stepped-up” basis, dealing a huge blow to family-owned businesses and farms. A recent study found that eliminating this provision would crush American jobs, reduce wages, and harm generational businesses in our community.

This shows just how high the stakes are in Washington. The far left policies being pushed by President Biden and Speaker Pelosi will jeopardize our recovery by hurting local employers and reducing job opportunities. Small businesses make up 94 percent of the employers in the 22nd District. They and their employees are the backbone of our region’s economy, and I will continue fighting for them in Congress.

Read Rep. Tenney's op-ed online here.