A small business owner’s trip to Washington, D.C.
While I love owning and running a small business in Madison, I wanted to find a way to amplify my voice and those of other entrepreneurs, especially those of color. Washington, D.C. isn’t exactly sending out invitations to people like me. But joining with others was my ticket to making our voices heard a few weeks ago.
When the pandemic started in 2020, I joined a national group called Small Businesses for America’s Future. The group started out as small businesses banding together to figure out how to make it through the pandemic and to advocate for government programs that help us. As we approach a post-pandemic world, the group decided to continue its work by advocating on issues that small businesses care about.
Small Businesses for America’s Future offered an impressive array of visits in 2022. Along with 11 other small business owners from around the country, we started with Congressional members and their aides, including the those in the office of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, and representatives of Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), Senate Small Business Chairperson.
Meeting these folks in person is not like news clips on TV. The officials were very engaging and eager to hear what we had to say. We made several asks: Make the playing field for small businesses simpler. Let small businesses keep more of the first dollars they make and make billion-dollar companies pay their fair share of taxes.
We emphasized that small businesses can’t match the army of lawyers and accountants funded by billion-dollar companies.
We also asked for a tax credit to small businesses for their first employee hire. This encourages employment. We also asked for grant programs to help small businesses make professional development investments in their workforce and develop a program for child care.
We visited the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and met with Meena Seshamani, M.D., Ph.D., deputy administrator, and Kristi Martin, senior advisor. They started by asking us what they can do to help us. What a great way to start a meeting. They specifically wanted to know what they could do to encourage the private insurance market to make health care more affordable for small businesses. Our message was simple — bring the cost of prescription drugs down, address copays and insurance deductibles, and develop wellness programs that are effective, so our workforce is not affected by absenteeism.
At the Minority Business Development Agency, we met with Miguel Estién, acting national director and national deputy director, and discussed equitable recovery for minority-owned businesses. We outlined the barriers to capital and had a candid discussion about the need for equity investments into minority companies, not just loans.
We finished our day at the White House. My experience started off a little rocky when the Secret Service wouldn’t let me enter. (That’s a story is for another day.) I made it in, and wow, just being there makes you stop and think. We spent over two hours in meetings with folks, which included Neera Tanden, staff secretary to President Biden, Deanne Millison, director of policy in the Office of the Vice President, and many others. We talked about how small businesses can work to obtain government contracts, how government should be working with firms that received SBA COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and how together we can invest in the workforce for small businesses.
This trip renewed my faith that government can be a partner with small businesses. Every person we met listened to our issues and asked how the federal government could help with change or craft good policy to support small businesses. It reminded me that if small businesses show up, government will listen. For all of us in small business, let’s get into the game!
Daniel G. Guerra Jr. is the founder and CEO of the Altus, a platform that enables health care professionals to track and meet annual compliance and education requirements. He currently serves on the board of directors for the Latino Professional Association of Greater Madison Inc.
Click here to sign up for the free IB Ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.