by Caitie Banfield
While discussion for ‘hammering down all the nails’ on Green Mountain Care’s development is underway, those who may be impacted by these ‘nails’ don’t necessarily have all the knowledge they should have. Owners of small business often have a difficult time staying on top of political talk when more immediate priorities are standing front of them — like customers and guests. “It’s the reality of being a small business. We are so busy worrying about the day to day things,” said Greg DiCarlo.
Greg DiCarlo was raised into his family’s business, The Shire Motel, and now he has become more involved with the motel. His parents purchased the Woodstock motel in 1984, and have grown the business to three times its original size. The Shire now houses forty-two rooms.
The ‘nail’ that will have the most impact on small businesses is how Green Mountain Care will be funded, and it has sparked lots of discussion within the small business community. “We’re small, and we don’t have a legal or legislative department that is watching this stuff all the time. And that’s what makes it scary, we probably don’t know enough about what’s going on and we don’t know as much as we should,” DiCarlo lamented. “We’re small businesses and we don’t really have the time or the inclination to follow all this stuff.”
According to DiCarlo, business at the motel is busy for six months and slow for six months. The constant change in seasons causes the inflow of guests to vary. Businesses like the Shire Motel feel how the change of season affects tourism in Vermont. In a quaint town like Woodstock, the late spring and into foliage season is most favorable for tourists.
During The Shire Motel’s busy months they employ ten to twelve people, six full time staff members and the rest ‘summer help’. DiCarlo explained that they offer health insurance for the year-round, full time employees. Some of the employees that are hired during the busy months consist of students in the J1Visa program. The J1Visa program (j1visa.state.gov).
DiCarlo’s payroll could be a big factor in how Green Mountain Care impacts his business, considering that the most likely method for funding Green Mountain Care is a payroll tax. DiCarlo said, “It’s probably us [small businesses] that this [financial] burden is going to fall on for the most part, exempting larger companies.”
Larger employers that self-insure under the federal ERISA laws represent over 100,000 Vermont workers and are exempt from state laws regarding healthcare. Though the state could force ERISA employers to pay the tax, the political will might not be there to force these large, economically critical, and politically powerful employers to “pay twice.” If the ERISA companies are exempt from the payroll tax, the cost shift onto small businesses could be enormous.
DiCarlo said, “These big companies have a full time person on staff whose job it is to understand the stuff going on in Montpelier. We’re small companies, and we just don’t have that.”
DiCarlo imagines, “We’re going to start getting letters in the mail saying this is what we have to pay, we don’t have enough knowledge to understand that some guy is making the right calculations, and we don’t have the knowledge to dispute it….We just don’t understand enough about it, and that’s what scary for us.”
Like DiCarlo, small business owner David Wendt, also doesn’t know enough about Green Mountain Care and the potential effects he and his business may be burdened with. Wendt has owned Village Pizza in downtown Montpelier for a little over two years.
According to Wendt, working for yourself is a perk to owning a small business. But, Wendt also said that there are a lot fewer perks than there used to be. As far as the economy is concerned, Wendt says, “I’m just getting by.”
Wendt served 26 years in the Air Guard and receives his health insurance from Veterans Affairs. Village Pizza has eight employees who do not receive health benefits.
The uncertainty small businesses have about what they will berequired to pay is a great worry for all Vermont small businesses. “I don’t really know enough to have any concerns on the business side,” Wendt said. “I’m not sure what is going to be expected of the small businesses.”
Wendt fears being taxed additionally for Green Mountain Care. “If I get some type of a mandate saying that I have to somehow put out extra money, that is going to be a real problem. I can’t do it,” Wendt explained.
The options aren’t pleasant. Wendt knows what he will have to do to continue to stay afloat if he is taxed to pay for Green Mountain Care. “The first thing you do when things get tough is you cut hours; you cut payroll,” Wendt said. “So I’d work more. I have a couple managers who are on salary, so they would work more.”
Wendt is reluctant to make any major judgment on Green Mountain Care, he is just hopeful. “Hopefully we don’t have an additional burden on us, that’s all I can hope for,” Wendt said. “I’m just holding my breath. I’m like everybody else.”