WIPP Works in Washington – August 2018

Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain

Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

In the final scene of the Wizard of Oz, the dog Toto pulls back the curtain and Dorothy discovers the man behind the curtain is not the great and powerful Wizard, he’s just a little old man with a megaphone. Sometimes, actions in Washington use the megaphone but there is relatively little “behind the curtain.” That’s how the new rule on Association Health Plans (AHPs), issued by the Department of Labor, feels.

It was with great fanfare that the Administration issued new rules for AHPs. WIPP has supported AHPs since its inception as a necessary tool to allow small businesses to band together to create larger health insurance pools, thus creating more competition and better prices in the small business marketplace. Insurance rules adopted during the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) largely prohibited AHPs from a viable option. Because every insurance plan had to cover 10 “essential health benefits” under the ACA, these plans became mute.

When the Department of Labor announced loosening the regulations to allow AHPs, we applauded. WIPP submitted comments urging better pooling mechanisms, a wider range of health plan options and protections for those with pre-existing conditions. We also urged the Department to include a different “commonality of interest” definition, allowing small businesses to band together beyond a trade, industry, or profession. This would have allowed small business organizations to offer AHP membership to its members, including WIPP.

On June 21, the man behind the curtain showed up. The Department of Labor issued its new AHP rules. By deciding to keep the definition of who can join an AHP to a trade, industry, or profession, business organizations like WIPP, cannot offer an AHP. For example, an accountant in Nevada could join an AHP housed in a national association of accountants, but an organization of women business owners, does not qualify as a trade, industry, or profession, according to the new rules. The AHP can have out-of-state members but must comply with the rules of the state in which it is housed, restricting its ability to be a true “across state lines” option. Important to note is that AHPs are not required to offer the 10 essential benefits, which means education for employers and employees who join AHPs is needed.

News reports suggested that small business associations who have supported AHPs in their policy platforms are not going to take advantage of the new rules. That’s because they can’t—their commonality is business owners, not limited to a specific trade, industry or profession. Giving small business owners more health insurance options continues to be part of our policy platform. As premiums continue to rise, small business exchanges set up by the ACA should not be the only option. The Department of Labor could have done so much more than use their megaphone.

President’s Corner – August 2018

President’s Corner: All Politics is Local

WIPP President, Candace Waterman

How often have you watched your local news channel only to see a lawmaker standing with local residents or a specific constituency to highlight legislation they passed or money they brought to their local region? Chances are the people you see on the screen are there as the result of a tremendous amount of hard work by a well-organized group, able to mobilize their members when needed.

WIPP often shares pictures of our members side by side with lawmakers as we advocate on your behalf in our Nation’s Capital. WIPP’s success in Washington, D.C. has long been a direct result of our members’ willingness to mobilize when we reach out to you on an issue. Yet, another important component of this success is your engagement with lawmakers in your home districts.

We often hear the phrase “all politics is local.” At the core of this saying is the fact that you and your vote are critical to influencing your legislators, not only on what issues they focus on, but also holding them accountable for their policy positions. At WIPP, we know any successful advocacy effort must include direct communications between constituents and their elected officials.

With congressional recess upon us, I encourage you to reach out this month to your local Representative and Senators in their district offices. Take the time to set up a phone or in-person meeting with your legislator’s staff to highlight your business; the economic impact to your community in terms of job creation and revenue; and discuss a policy or regulatory issue of importance to your business.

Use the WIPP August Recess Guide to help you engage with your local legislators and amplify WIPP’s message on key issues impacting women in business.

Congress has only 35 combined legislative days left before the end of the calendar year, leaving our policymakers not much time to get things done before the end of the 115th Congress. With only 90 days until the midterm elections, which may impact the control of Congress, now is the time to reach out to your policymakers!

Access to Capital for Small Business Key Focus in the House Passed JOBS Act 3.0

In a rare display of bipartisanship, the House of Representatives passed the JOBS and Investor Confidence Act of 2018, known as the JOBS Act 3.0 by a 406-4 vote.  The legislation, which was the result of an agreement between House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA), includes a package of 32 bills which improve investment, capital formation and lending, with a specific focus on helping small business.

This important legislation includes provisions which ease securities laws to help small businesses attract investors and go public.  Some of the highlights of the legislation, include:

  • The Helping Angels Lead Our Startups (HALOS) Act (H.R. 79) addresses an important issue regarding when a business may make a pitch to potential investors without breaking securities laws.  The legislation would define an “angel investor group” and modify SEC regulations to allow entrepreneurs seeking investment to make presentations to prospective investors at events sponsored by angel investor and venture capital groups, nonprofit organizations, universities, etc.
  • The Fair Investment Opportunities for Professional Experts Act (H.R. 1585) would update the definition of accredited investor so those who do not have a high income or high net worth but do have the education and job experience to evaluate investment risks and merits can participate via investments in the growth of promising companies.
  • The Investing in Main Street Act (H.R. 2364) increases the percentage a financial institution or federal savings association can invest in a small business investment company (SBIC) from 5 percent to 15 percent.

For a full list of bills included in the JOBS Act 3.0, click here.

Over 20 Companies and Organizations Sign White House Pledge to Create Apprenticeships & Jobs

 

In a White House event with business and organizational leaders, President Trump signed an executive order creating the National Council for the American Worker, to convene experts from government, education, and private industry to focus on workforce development and training.  The Council, led by Ivanka Trump, will focus on increasing job training and apprenticeships for American workers.

Companies such as Walmart, FedEx, Lockheed Martin, and Microsoft were among the those that signed a “Pledge to American Workers,” committing to create job opportunities over the next five years. Walmart alone committed to creating one million new jobs in that time period.  Business organizations present such as the Internet Association and Associated Builders & Contractors signed pledges to develop apprenticeships to help re-skill workers. To see the full list of commitments, click here.

House Small Business Committee on a Roll, Passing Eight Bipartisan Bills

The House Small Business Committee continued its streak as one of the most productive and bipartisan committees in Congress, with the passage of eight bills after they held a markup.  A number of the bills addressed issue impacting government contracting.  Below highlights some of the bills of importance to women business owners:

This bill gets rid of the requirement that the sole source award can only be $4 million for the life of the contract, allowing sole source awards to now be $4 and $7 million per year. Additionally, for WOSBs and SDVOBs, the bill implements a new eligibility determination process for sole source awards. In addition to the current requirement that contracting officers must verify eligibility before awarding the contract, this bill requires SBA to also verify eligibility.

There was an amendment to the legislation that extends elimination of option years to the 8(a) program as well and will get rid of WOSB eligibility verification once SBA comes up with their own process to verify, which is in the works.

  • Incentivizing Fairness in Subcontracting Act of 2018 (R. 6367) – introduced by Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL) and Rep. Trent Kelly (R-MS)

This bill creates incentives for prime contractors to reach their subcontracting goals by receiving credit. Prime contractors will be required to keep records of subcontracting credit claimed at lower tiers. It also designates the OSDBUs in agencies to resolve issues of non-payment of subcontractors.

One amendment was made to this bill requiring subcontractors to tell the primes that they are doing dispute process for non-payment and if primes want to get credit, they have to report on what work is actually going to the small businesses.

  • Clarity on Small Business Participation in Category Management Act of 2018 (R. 6382) – introduced by Rep. Alma Adams (D- NC) and Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH)

This bill creates a reporting requirement on small business participation on Best in Class (BIC) vehicles.  An amendment added to this legislation puts an effective date that the data must be reported, which is once it is available in SAM.

  • Small Business Runway Extension Act of 2018 (R. 6330) – introduced by Rep. Steve Knight (R-CA) and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY)

This bill would modify the SBA reporting requirements to have businesses report their average earnings over the last five years, rather than three which will provide more certainty to small businesses as they ramp up their operations and grow over time. This is important for growing businesses who may slow their growth to avoid being pushed out of the “small” category before they have the capacity to compete with larger businesses.

  • Encouraging Small Business Innovators Act (R. 6368) – introduced by Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC)

This bill makes a series of changes to the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs, making them easier for small firms to use and allowing experienced firms in the SBIR/STTR programs to mentor younger companies.

For the full list of bills passed, click here.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp Introduces Bill to Reauthorize the Interagency Committee on Women’s Business Enterprise

Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)

Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) has introduced S. 3165, a bill to reauthorize the Interagency Committee on Women’s Business Enterprise. This Committee was created by an Executive Order in 1979, and played a vital role in monitoring, coordinating, and promoting programs within federal agencies that support and strengthen women’s business ownership. By reauthorizing this Committee, which has been defunct, it will renew focus on the importance of women in business and encourage key departments and agencies to continue to provide women in business access to technical assistance, government contracts, financial support via grant and loan programs, and business training.

WIPP has submitted a letter of support for Senator Heitkamp’s legislation reauthorizing this Committee.

To learn more, take a look at the Executive Order establishing the Interagency Committee on Women’s Business Enterprise.

Paid Family Leave Debated in Senate Finance Committee

Paid family leave was a hot topic in a hearing held by the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy.  Senators, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) testified at the hearing regarding their proposals on paid family leave.

Senator Gillibrand spoke about her Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), which allows for paid leave funded through taxes on both employees and employers. The proposal also allows leave for circumstances other than a new child. If a person needs to take time to be a caregiver for a sick family member or they themselves need medical leave to treat an illness, they can do so under this proposal.  People would be guaranteed 66 percent of their regular earnings or up to $4,000 a month.

Senator Ernst highlighted the importance of this issue, and shared that she is working with Senators Marco Rubio and Mike Lee on crafting a paid leave bill that has yet to be introduced.  Notable was her and her Republican colleagues opposition with utilizing taxes on employers or employees to fund paid leave.  She along with Senators Rubio and Lee are looking at how to create a paid leave benefit through Social Security, in which in return for receiving paid leave, participants would defer the collection of their Social Security benefits upon retirement.

Watch the hearing here.

WIPP Works in Washington – July 2018

A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action, Please

 Ann Sullivan,                 WIPP Chief Advocate

Some days I feel talked to death. The 24-hour news cycle, Twitter, Congressional hearings, roundtables, forums – you name it – everyone’s talking. But to quote an Elvis Presley song, “a little less conversation, a little more action, please.”

Congressional inaction didn’t start yesterday. The budget process has been broken for some time. In fact, Congress passed all 12 appropriations bills by the October 1st deadline (the beginning of the fiscal year) just four times in the last 40 years. However, from 2011 to 2016, not a single appropriations bill passed by itself. For the last 7 out of 10 years, Congress has failed to pass a budget. Finally, the last time the Congress passed all 12 of its appropriations bills was 1994.

The same goes for legislation. Historically, this session of Congress is on pace to pass the least amount of legislation in the last 50 years. Congress has passed 194 pieces of legislation signed into law during the first 18 months of the 115th session of Congress. Of those 194, 23 bills were symbolic or ceremonial. Roughly 1.7% of bills introduced this session of Congress have become law, compared to 4.5% of bills in the 105th session (under President Clinton), and 3.3% of bills in the 110th session (under President George W. Bush.)

No one knows better than Congressional Members that the system is broken – especially its fundamental budget responsibility. A little-known effort is commencing on Capitol Hill – the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform. This Committee, comprised of House and Senate Members of both parties, is tasked with recommendations to reset the way Congress budgets and appropriates the taxpayers’ money. Recently, the Committee asked Members of Congress to share recommendations and Speaker Paul Ryan testified that the Congress should do a biennial budget. Others suggested getting rid of the Budget Committee, indexing spending to a percentage of the gross national product and eliminating the debt ceiling vote by making it automatic. What struck me most listening to the hearing was the bipartisan interest in fixing the budget process.

Two former Senate Leaders, Tom Daschle (D) and Trent Lott (R), currently lead the Commission on Political Reform as part of their work at the Bipartisan Policy Center. They have shared three recommendations to address the gridlock:

  1. Move to a two-year budget cycle, allowing more time for Members to understand programs under their jurisdiction in-depth;
  2. Get rid of the Senate filibuster but make the majority 60 votes, not 51 votes;
  3. Have a minimum number of amendments that can be offered to legislation, thus encouraging Members to get involved in legislating.

Being an eternal optimist, I believe the Congress can fix the process. One small ray of hope is the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is moving its bills at a much faster clip than we have seen in many years. I anticipate the Joint Select Committee on Budget Reform will produce serious recommendations.

Changing the rules will lead to action. Members of Congress will get back to legislating and time will be spent considering serious issues that need resolution. Getting back to an action-oriented Congress would be the first step toward more action and less talk.

President’s Corner – July 2018

The Power of WIPP’s Voice in Action

Candace Waterman,        WIPP President

As a business owner, part of what makes you successful is staying abreast of what is going on in your industry, with your customers or clients, and within your company to ensure you can take advantage of any opportunities ahead or prepare for any changes on the horizon.  At WIPP, we too are consistently keeping our ear to the ground and eyes open to changes in policy and the impact it may have on businesses like yours.

At the core of WIPP’s mission is to advocate for public policy that supports women business ownership by creating economic opportunities and a favorable regulatory environment.  This past month highlighted the power of WIPP in action.

  • When the SBA Inspector General issued an audit report on the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Procurement Program last month that highlighted issues with implementation of sole source authority in that program. WIPP led the response, calling on Congress and the SBA to encourage federal agencies to use the WOSB program and simplify the requirements, which have proven to be confusing.
  • As Congress debated workforce development programs and how to address the skills gap in various hearings, WIPP spoke up with a letter to policymakers about ensuring women business owners have a role in these discussions and sharing recommendations on how to create a skilled, qualified workforce for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
  • After the Department of Labor issued their final rule on Association Health Plans (AHPs) last month, WIPP was among the first to spread the word to our network about the details and impact of AHPs on the health insurance market and cost of coverage for business owners.

All of the above are a testament to the ways in which WIPP takes action on your behalf.  We know that your time is best spent running and growing your business.  However, we know the impact that a new regulation, tax or change to a government program can have on your bottom line.

That is why WIPP has spent years building key relationships with lawmakers and their staff to afford WIPP the access and clout needed to be at the table to affect change on legislation, regulations and key policy initiatives.

It is this collaborative spirit that has made WIPP successful thus far and makes people want to continue to be involved. We invite you to add your voice and join WIPP as we continue the great work of this organization on behalf of women business owners across the country.

 

Trump Administration Freezes Billions of Dollars in Payments to Affordable Care Act Risk Adjustment Program

Over the weekend, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a statement saying it was halting billions of dollars of payments to insurers under the Affordable Care Act’s risk adjustment program due to conflicting federal court decisions on the program. This move will likely disrupt the insurance market in the Exchanges and could lead to more premium increases next year.

The purpose of the risk adjustment program, a permanent program, is to reduce the incentive for health insurers to select and cover only healthy individuals in the Exchanges. It shifts money from plans with healthier members to those with larger numbers of sicker members to help mitigate high costs of coverage for less healthy individuals.

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the association for insurance carriers, expressed concern and stated, “the decision will have serious consequences for millions of consumers who get their coverage through small businesses or buy coverage on their own. It will create more market uncertainty and increase premiums for many health plans—putting a heavier burden on small businesses and consumers, and reducing coverage options. And costs for taxpayers will rise as the federal government spends more on premium subsidies.”

The CMS has asked for additional guidance from the district judge overseeing the case relating to this program, prior to unfreezing the funds.