Helping Small Businesses Succeed with Good Policies Rep. Tim Walberg
Everywhere I go across my home state of Michigan, there are “Help Wanted” signs. The same is true in states across the country.
America’s economic engine has been reignited, which has led to encouraging gains for both employees and employers. More than one million jobs have been created in 2019, the unemployment rate is near its lowest point in half a century, and wages have consistently risen over the past year.
The task before us, as policymakers, is to build upon the health of our economy and further expand opportunities to every corner of our communities.
In the 21st century, if we want to keep our economy moving forward, then we are going to need a strong emphasis on professional trades to make it happen. Through my work as a senior member of the Education and Labor Committee, expanding access to apprenticeships and career and technical education has been a priority for many years now.
Too often, misconceptions about career pathways outside a four-year degree discourage students from considering widely-available, well-paying jobs in highly skilled fields.
Unfortunately, this outdated mindset has created a huge skills gap in our country. Across the country, over 7 million jobs are left unfilled, and I often hear about the serious workforce shortage in the masonry and construction industries as well.
On the legislative front, I am proud to have been a co-sponsor of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which was signed into law by President Trump last year.
The law makes crucial updates to our national workforce development programs by empowering state and local community leaders and improving alignment with in-demand jobs. It will help more Americans gain the skills and hands-on experience they need to obtain a meaningful career that provides for their family.
As I visit with small businesses in my district, I also hear concerns about the high and rising cost of health care. From unaffordable premiums to soaring out of pocket costs, the status quo is not working. Instead, small businesses should be empowered to negotiate for the very best coverage at the very best prices on behalf of their employees, just as large businesses and labor unions do.
Last year, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Department of Labor to use its regulatory authority to expand access to association health plans (AHPs). This action gives small employers, through economies of scale that larger entities currently enjoy, the ability to negotiate health care for their employees at a more affordable price.
In response to the President’s directive, the Department of Labor published a final rule that broadens the criteria for determining when employers may join together in an employer group or association in order to form an AHP. Unfortunately, that rule was vacated by the court – creating uncertainty for small employers across the country, who had begun to provide coverage to their employees through an AHP.
To provide certainty to our nation’s small businesses, I recently introduced the Association Health Plans Act of 2019, which would protect Americans’ access to these types of plans. This legislation would codify the Department of Labor’s AHP rule, ensuring that individuals who have these plans can keep them and can’t be changed by future administrations.
Additionally, if we want to continue to keep our economy growing and provide certainty to employers, small businesses, and workers, Congress needs to ensure our federal agencies implement fair and workable regulations.
As the agency goes through the comment period and each stage of its rulemaking process, impacted industries should have their voices heard. Like we saw in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) 2016 silica rule, ignoring common sense concerns can result in regulatory burdens that impose costly and unworkable mandates on the masonry and construction industries.
While it is encouraging that the current administration is considering revisions to the 2016 rule, Congress must continue to conduct proper oversight of the Department of Labor and OSHA to ensure agencies develop a smart regulatory framework that protects the health of workers, while not acting as a hindrance to job growth.
From workforce development to regulatory relief, there are many challenges that we as legislators and as a nation must tackle together. Employers and workers on countless jobsites across the country deserve more than our good intentions. They deserve good policies that lead to good results. We must always remember that America’s economy is only as strong as its workers and the small businesses that employ them.
Congressman Tim Walberg represents Michigan’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives and is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Education and Labor Committee.
MCAA’s Association Healthcare:
Words: Jeff Buczkiewicz, President MCAA
The MCAA applauds and thanks Representative Walberg for his work on behalf of the masonry industry. He has been a true friend and supporter of advancing our industry. Just a quick update on the insurance the Congressman referred to, he is correct, the courts have struck down the new rule President Trump tried to implement to make association plans easier to obtain. Fortunately, the MCAA had a plan already approved under the old Department of Labor rules, which allows for an association healthcare plan.
That means that the MCAA has a fully functioning program in place. UnitedHealthcare is the national insurer of the program, and companies are already saving money on their plans and are able to offer better benefits for less. If you have not yet had a chance to get a quote on your insurance, we urge you to do so a few months before your plan is up for renewal. We know the next few months are one of the biggest renewal times for mason contractors. You owe it to yourself, and your employees to get a quote. It is a very simple process, and it can save you quite a bit. The national association (MCAA) was able to add benefits and still save 15% a year on our plan, we switched in January of this year. If you have any questions on the program, please contact Todd Fredrick in our office today. You can reach him at 800-536-2225.