Policymakers at all levels use small business issues as a key talking point during political debates, but few actually take the time to listen to small business owners and better understand their challenges. How can legislators better connect with small business owners you might ask? Well, Members of Congress should be spending the last days of August recess getting to know the small businesses in their communities. It doesn’t have to be hard work, and the great part is, they can bring their families along to meet their local florist, bookseller and toy shop owner.
What they’ll likely learn from chatting with their local coffee shop owner or mechanic is that small business owners in Illinois want policymakers to truly understand their concerns, and then act on them. Indeed, new opinion polling by Small Business Majority found only 15% of Illinois small businesses feel their state and federal government officials have a strong understanding of their needs. The reasons why they feel their officials don’t understand them are that they believe they’re too influenced by special interests, they primarily care about larger businesses and they don’t take time to listen to or understand the views of business owners like them.
For example, many government officials may have misunderstood the needs of small businesses when they wrote and passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. While the new tax law was billed as a win for small firms, only 31% of Illinois small businesses report that the law has had a positive impact on their business, compared to 61% who say it’s had a negative impact or no effect on their business.
What Illinois small business owners really want help with right now is their healthcare costs, which is ranked as one of the top two challenges for entrepreneurs in our state. According to small business owner Karin McKie, owner of Tree Falls Production in Chicago, “My primary concern right now is healthcare, especially since I have a pre-existing condition. I would be dead or bankrupt without my insurance, and yet some elected officials are trying to make sure I have even fewer options. If they succeed it will drive people like me away from their entrepreneurial dreams into jobs they don’t want just to get health benefits.”
Small business owners across the state would like to see their government officials addressing healthcare costs and access by increasing federal subsidies that help make healthcare more affordable, allowing individuals to buy in to Medicare or Medicaid at no net cost to the government and banning short-term insurance and association health plans.
In addition to addressing healthcare, small business owners would like their government officials to help ease licensing and regulatory requirements, make retirement plans more accessible, provide more funding for organizations that provide advice and services to small businesses and entrepreneurs, and increase the availability of capital for small businesses.
Small business owners’ voices like Karin’s are being stifled and ignored by government officials who frequently claim to be in their corner. If Illinois officials want to support our state’s job creators, they must get to know their local small business owners so they can address barriers to entrepreneurship and enact policies that will level the playing field for small firms.