The 2020 presidential election is in full swing. On major networks, pundits unpack President Trump’s latest campaign rally and speculate about Vice President Joe Biden’s possible running mate. But too few are talking about the concerns of Main Street, USA. With the economy slowly reopening—and a surge in COVID-19 cases threatening even that—the needs of small businesses and their workers should be front and center.
Candidates need to get serious about policy to support small businesses. Not only can this constituency play an important role in deciding the election, it’s also vital to our country’s economic future.
Last week, I outlined three priorities for small businesses that the candidates should include in their election platforms: rebuilding the small business economy, tax reform, and access to capital and lending protections. Today I want to talk about three more issues that matter to small businesses, and that any candidate serious about the needs of our country should commit to prioritizing.
1. Affordable healthcare. Research shows that healthcare costs are the No. 1 issue for small business owners. With the rollback of key pieces of the Affordable Care Act and the Administration’s recent request that the Supreme Court toss out the law altogether—during an ongoing pandemic—this concern has only grown. We must rein in healthcare costs, so that business owners and entrepreneurs can support their workers without folding under the financial strain. Vice President Biden is well positioned to reinforce the Affordable Care Act and strengthen ACA marketplaces to improve choices for small business employees. The president has been promising since the last election to replace the ACA with something better, but several efforts to do so have failed. Recent surveys show that small business owners want to build off the Affordable Care Act, not turn back. In addition, the Trump administration’s recent promising efforts to address rising prescription drug prices have stalled, but will be a crucial pillar of small business support, since these contribute to overall cost increases that small business owners can’t afford to bear.
2. Incentives for childcare. In this pandemic, small business owners are increasingly recognizing the importance of affordable childcare. This isn’t just a family issue, but an economic one. Access to stable, quality childcare can make a business more competitive by improving employee loyalty, reducing absenteeism and increasing business productivity. A mom and pop business with few employees can be hobbled if just one of those employees is absent due to childcare issues.
According to a recent poll by the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult, during the COVID-19 crisis, 34% of parents who are working remotely are alternating work hours with someone else in their household to care for their children, while 21% of those working in-person are reducing their hours in order to care for their children. In another survey, small business executives listed family and childcare responsibilities as a huge challenge to their business during the pandemic, second only to loss of revenue. Of course, this is a longstanding issue, far before COVID-19. For small businesses, ensuring that workers have consistent, quality childcare options is a matter of survival. Candidates can commit to expanding paid leave for parents, as well as lowering the cost of childcare—including through tax incentives for employer-provided childcare.
In addition, making childcare more accessible would have the felicitous impact of creating more business opportunities and jobs. At the height of the pandemic two months ago, a survey by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that 60% of licensed childcare providers had closed. The National Association for the Education of Young Children found that many providers were skeptical they could survive these short- or long-term closures without significant support. But childcare will still be a critical need for working parents after this crisis passes—meaning that entrepreneurs who wish to start a childcare business should be assisted in doing so. This will require supportive policies that enable access to capital and training, among other things.
3. A real seat at the table. While the policy issues above (and those presented in Part One) are a great start for the presidential candidates, what small businesses need in the long term is serious, substantive, ongoing engagement. The needs and challenges of small businesses and their workers are not static, but fluctuate over time. The COVID-19 pandemic proves that: exacerbating existing challenges while presenting all new ones. Without a seat for small businesses at the decision-making table, the administration that’s sworn in come January cannot respond to the real-time priorities of this constituency. Too often, small business policy or regulatory ideas are bolted onto a campaign’s overall economic plan. Our Main Streets are far too important—employing half of Americans, being the primary job creators coming out of recessions and infusing economic vitality into our communities—to be an afterthought. Substantive engagement means creating a specific policy plan for small businesses (containing the policy ideas I have outlined) that is a real part of a campaign, as well as a concerted effort to enact them once a candidate reaches office.
In the upcoming election, the candidates must go above and beyond for small businesses—after all, small businesses and their workers go above and beyond for this country every day.