The mom in Castle Rock who has seen her savings disappear and now relies on food stamps to feed her family isn't alone. Now more than 44 million Americans receive food stamps -- the largest number in our history.
Behind this troubling number is a lack of good-paying American jobs. Getting Cowlitz County residents back to work would go a long way toward helping folks feed their families, pay their mortgages and fill their cars with gas.
During my first six months in Congress, I've worked to recalibrate the federal government's approach to job creation. Since small businesses create 3 out of every 4 new jobs, efforts by the federal government should be focused on creating more certainty for American small businesses and manufacturers. The need for workers is there, but because of a challenging business environment these job providers haven't been hiring as many workers as they need. A 2010 Gallup survey shows that 4 out of 10 small businesses hired fewer employees than they actually needed. Congress can remove some of the hurdles making these businesses reluctant to hire.
Spending time with Cowlitz County job creators has helped me identify the hurdles. In May, I convened a roundtable discussion with several small employers from the Longview area. Here are some key issues they shared:
* Rising health care costs, new health care rules. Many of the employers identified the rising cost of health care as a challenge to hiring. Some were unsure how to comply with last year's health care law. One employer asked about "waivers" -- the 1,400 special passes granted to certain corporations to opt out of the new complicated law. My goal is to lower health care costs and eliminate the complex rules that are tripping up employers. Medical lawsuit abuse reform, for example, would save this country an estimated $50 billion per year. I cosponsored a bill the President signed that repealed the health care bill's most complex "1099" rule that would have forced small businesses to shift from growing and hiring to filling out extra paperwork.
* Rising gas prices. Since the beginning of 2009 gas prices have more than doubled, and families aren't the only ones feeling pain at the pump. High gas prices impact virtually every business. I voted for four energy exploration bills that would create cheaper American energy and more American jobs. All four bills were approved by the House and are currently waiting for Senate action.
* Rising commodity prices. Scott and Janice Forbes, owners of Highlander Cycling Imports, noted that materials like the rubber used in bike tires have gotten more expensive. That's not all; oil, food and other commodities have shot up in price. Government can't always control commodity prices, but it can control the taxes and fees that are piled on top of these costs. Higher tax bills sap the capital folks like Scott and Janice would otherwise use to keep people employed.
* Boiler MACT rules: Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released far-reaching rules affecting hundreds of thousands of boilers and incinerators in industrial and manufacturing facilities across the country. The forest products industry, which provides thousands of jobs in Southwest Washington, would be hit with an estimated $5 --7 billion in costs just to comply. It's tough for them to add new workers when they have to worry about such a big hit to their bottom lines.
During a June tour of Swanson Bark in Longview, owner John Leber told me his business ships some of the forest byproducts used to fuel biomass boilers. He is concerned these rules will simply choke out the emerging biomass industry and the jobs that would come with it. Recently, I cosponsored a bill in Congress that would have the EPA rewrite those rules in a way that's more workable for businesses. I will continue pursuing ways to make rules affecting Southwest Washington manufacturers and biomass-related businesses more reasonable.
During my first six months, Congress has had some success in making job creation its priority, but we need to do more. We should continue to foster entrepreneurship with no-cost solutions that will restart our economy. Until those folks seeking work can find good-paying jobs right here in Southwest Washington, we have plenty more to do.
This commentary was submitted by Jaime Herrera Beutler, U.S. Representative for Washington's Third District.