Corrine Hendrickson describes the challenges of being a child care provider during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of government support to the survival of her business, during a Congressional hearing Tuesday. (Screenshot via YouTube)
At Tuesday’s hearing before the U.S. House Committee on Small Business, Chair Roger Williams (R-Texas) in his opening statements blamed the struggles of U.S. small businesses primarily on taxes, inflation, and burdensome government regulations.
“Every extra hour of paperwork is one less hour [small business owners] can tend to their personal livelihoods,” Williams said in his opening remarks. “Every inflated tax is an extra dollar that could have gone somewhere else, and every job vacancy is one more a small business owner must cover themselves.”
Most of the people called to testify before the committee confirmed, to some extent, that conservative narrative. So when Corrine Hendrickson, owner of Corrine’s Little Explorers’ child care center in New Glarus, spoke, her testimony stuck out.
“I’m hoping that I was able to bring a little bit of a different perspective,” Hendrickson said in an interview after her appearance at the hearing. “That maybe I planted some seeds and that maybe they are thinking that there could possibly be a different answer. But we’ll see.”
Hendrickson had planned to be in Washington D.C. this week to participate with a National Association for the Education of Young Children forum on behalf of Wisconsin Early Childhood Association (WECA) where she’s a former board member. So when the Small Business Committee’s Democratic minority reached out to Main Street Alliance, the progressive small business organization recommended Hendrickson, who is an MSA member. Hendrickson saw it as an opportunity to provide more nuance to the topics the committee has prioritized for the next two years.
“Looking at the small business committee website and what their priorities were, they’re deregulation and that taxes are bad,” Hendrickson said. “And I wanted to help them understand that not all Main Street businesses feel that regulation and taxes are bad. It’s just how they’re enforced and what happens in practice. And taxes can be good if they are then used to improve our communities.”
For example, when one representative asked how inflation was affecting her business, Hendrickson pointed to the lack of competition due to consolidation, such as the OfficeMax and Office Depot merger in 2013, “almost doubling [Hendrickson’s] paper, printing, and office costs that following year and those costs have not decreased.”
“There’s a reason we have anti-monopoly legislation,” Hendrickson said. “Because we’ve learned our lesson from what’s happened in the past and that’s why those regulations are put in place and they’re not enforcing them.”
While Williams said federal pandemic aid had led to “total fraud,” Hendrickson pointed out that the only reason she could testify that day was because the federal COVID relief she received allowed her to raise her wages to be competitive, get the qualified workers she needed, and support her families trying to get back into the workforce.
“Without the [Paycheck Protection Program] I wouldn’t have been able to reopen after a short shutdown, I was also able to use that money to pause tuition until I reopened, and lower out-of-pocket payments to allow parents to go to part time to alleviate their costs and lowered hours of care needed,” Hendrickson said. “Without continuing federal funding, I will lose that option, leaving parents unable to work.”
Hendrickson talked extensively about how small businesses do not have the same benefits larger businesses do when it comes to economies of scale, access to capital, and taxes. There’s a lot the government could do that would help small businesses — and their communities — thrive, she said.
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“We pay a higher percent of our income and miss out on the legal deductions we are eligible for, and family child care is at an even greater disadvantage because we have so many different rules than other home-based businesses that tax preparers frequently misinform us, costing us thousands of dollars annually in excess state, federal, Social Security, and Medicaid taxes,” Hendrickson said.
“What if our small businesses were fairly invested in according to the value they provide in goods and services to our local economy, increased ingenuity, increased competition, therefore increasing quality of those products and services along with the quality of life of our community members?” she added. “From the perspective of small businesses, our government is choosing to focus on big business and corporations; ignoring the dire needs of small businesses around the country, eliminating the opportunity to truly live up to the American dream.”
Since the pandemic, Hendrickson has become an active advocate for investment in early childhood education. And despite providing a minority perspective at the committee, overall she found it to be a positive experience.
“Everybody was so helpful and just kind and made me feel comfortable and welcomed,” she said. “And so that helped with those nerves too. Like they’re just people, too. And I think that’s what you have to remember, is they’re just people, too.”
Hendrickson saw committee members react when she pointed out how little the U.S. invests in early childhood education compared with other wealthy countries.
Committee members have five days to send questions to anyone who testified. She said that there was much more she could have talked about if she’d had more time, and she hopes the conversation will continue.
“I feel like we have made strides and I think people are now starting to understand what we do and that we’re not just a place for children to just hang out,” Hendrickson said. “Over the last three years a lot of that has changed, and it is due to people like me being out there and talking about it and making it normal — like just mental health. People talking about it normalizes it and then you can have those conversations instead of just anger and fear and blame.”
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