(Photo: Courtesy SBA.govt)
President Obama’s American Jobs Act was dealt a blow in the Senate Tuesday night when Majority Leader Harry Reid failed to get the 60 votes needed to move the bill forward. Although every Republican senator voted against a measure to debate the $447 billion package, and House Republicans have said they also would not support it, President Obama and congressional Democrats hope that the two sides can find common ground on some of the provisions that they believe would jumpstart the economy. In a conversation with BET.com, Small Business Administration deputy administrator Marie Johns discusses the legislation’s importance to the nation’s economy and how it would positively impact African-American unemployment.
BET.com: The Senate failed to get enough votes to begin debate on the American Jobs Act. What is the administration’s plan B is to get the bill through the Senate?
Marie Johns: Well, the plan is to keep pushing. This is a case where it’s easy for the other side of the aisle to throw stones at the American Jobs Act but, if they don’t like this, they need to come up with a plan of their own. Because particularly in the African-American community, with unemployment rate over 16 percent, doing nothing just simply isn’t an option. From my perspective of being at the SBA and focused on supporting small business growth and job creation, [the legislation] is just the right next step in a line of important moves that the president has made to support small businesses.
There is a provision in the bill that allows people to use their unemployment insurance to start a business. How would that work and what kind of support would the SBA provide?
If someone had a small amount of capital that they could invest in a business, sometimes someone can get started by getting business cards and flyers printed. That’s often a good first step. The SBA provides counseling through our network of nearly 1,000 centers around the country. A new entrepreneur can come into any one of our 68 field offices, get counseling about how to launch a business [and] how to connect with networks to help them spread the word about their business. The SBA also has over 100 women’s business centers around the country. All of those resources are available at no cost for entrepreneurs to come in and talk through how they could use that capital to start a company.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) predicted that the Senate vote on the American Jobs Act would fail and the bill will more likely be passed in pieces. Do you think that’s the best way to seek compromise to ensure that at least some portions of the bill are passed?
This goes back to the unfortunate partisanship on behalf of the Republicans. The components of the American Jobs Act are policy directives that both Democrats and Republicans have supported in the past. So, there’s really no excuse for the bill not to be voted on in its entirety. The next step will be to continue the fight and again continue to call on the opposition to the bill that if this isn’t what you like then put something else on the table.
Which parts of the bill do you think would garner the greatest support in both congressional chambers?
All of Congress likes a tax cut. I think that the payroll tax cut for 20 million African-American workers is a major provision in the bill. The infrastructure commitments for public infrastructure and the roads and bridges that our country truly needs are provisions that all of Congress should be able to support. In addition to putting government resources behind something that the country truly needs to do, those investments directly lead to job opportunities and small-business growth opportunities.
Black-owned businesses are more likely to hire Black employees. Which portions of the bill do you think would encourage them to not only make the hires they’d already planned but also expand their workforces?
There’s a tax credit in the American Jobs Act for employers who will hire individuals who have been out of work for more than six months. That’s a very important provision because there is evidence of companies that have been basically turning their back on individuals who, in many cases at no fault of their own, have been unemployed for a longer period of time. So, this tax incentive is going to help across the board and I believe will particularly help the African-American community.
How will the unemployment rate in the African-American community be impacted if the bill is not passed?
It’s hard to think about that answer ... because we’re just going to keep fighting to get the provisions of the American Jobs Act enacted. When you’re talking about investing $15 billion nationally in an effort to put construction workers back on the job, and when you’re talking about modernizing our schools, a $25 billion investment in school infrastructure, the tax benefits that I mentioned earlier, all of those provisions are so important to our economy and so important to putting our community back to work that we’ve just got to continue to fight to get these provisions put into law.