The Immigration Debate No One's Discussing

Immigration reform might be critical to small business, but the real issue, say small business owners, is affordable health care.

The U.S. Senate's landmark immigration reform bill survived the August recess, indicating it might become law.

Many in the GOP-controlled House promised to use the August recess to rally Main Street around killing the legislation, while Democrats and Republicans mobilized their bases both for and against it. Regardless, town halls across the country remained quiet. How come?

The fact is, immigration just isn't at the top Main Street's mind. Despite extensive media coverage and lobbying by the tech industry, only 3 percent of small business owners think it should be the Obama Administration's top priority, according to a recent survey conducted by my company, Rocket Lawyer.

That's not to say that immigration reform isn't important. Policymakers just haven't been successful in pushing the issue to the top of small business owners' to-do list.

"Immigration reform does not impact our day-to-day operations or services," said Stan Wagner, director of outcomes at Red Thread Creative Group, a boutique creative marketing firm in Colorado. "The continued growth of the economy is my Number One concern."

Wagner is not alone in these sentiments--some 43 percent of small business owners say the economic recovery should remain a top priority. This continued focus on recovery comes even as things are looking up. More than half of the respondents claim their businesses grew during the first half of 2013, and a greater majority thinks the rest of the year will be better.

For Main Street, economic concerns appear to trump even the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is set to phase in major changes to U.S. healthcare policy next month. Only 10 percent of small business owners say health care should be a top priority. Part of this feeling might lie in the continuing confusion over compliance with the law.

"It appears that our small business of under 20 employees could possibly benefit from the Affordable Care Act by joining a co-op or other larger groups that could more effectively negotiate a better rate," said David Little, Director of Marketing at Key West Technology America, a digital signage firm based in Lenexa, Kansas. "We remain hopeful, but have a suspicion everyone is going to pay more and get less."

While many still claim ACA will hurt small businesses, the law only directly regulates companies with more than 50 full-time employees, requiring them to offer health care coverage or face a penalty of $2,000 per employee.

What ACA opponents will not tell you, however, is that a vast majority (96 percent) of U.S. businesses have fewer than 50 employees, exempting them from most of the reform, and businesses with 25 or fewer employees who choose to provide insurance anyway can receive a tax credit to offset the cost. Nevertheless, nearly 60 percent of small businesses are still under the impression ACA will increase employee healthcare costs.

With their collective eye fixed on the economy, small businesses have yet to see how both immigration and healthcare reforms on Capitol Hill could ultimately help economic growth. The current immigration plan, if signed into law, could "improve the budget picture and stimulate economic growth," according to The New York Times. ACA, once fully implemented, also could drive down the nearly $3 trillion price tag on U.S. health care, allowing folks to invest and spend their hard-earned dollars in other areas that support the overall economy.

There's really no surprise here. Whether it's immigration, health care--or even government spying programs--at the end of the day, Main Street is most concerned with making ends meet.

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