Small business owners press for positive actions

Small business owners this week urged local lawmakers to help erase the “stigma” attached to their neighborhoods as they asked for cleaner streets outside their locations. “There’s still a stigma that leans over that part of the city,” said Sarnia Etienne, who runs the LeFoyer Bakery in Mattapan. “I wind up putting on my card I’m in Boston.”

Her comments came Monday evening at a Florian Hall stop on a “listening tour” put together by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business. Business owners and nonprofit leaders packed the hall, voicing concerns about health care and their neighborhoods.

Bob Romanow, president of Frugal Furniture, said he felt there was a lack of support within the community for some businesses. He has had a store in Mattapan for six years, he said, and “most of our business in Mattapan comes from outside of Mattapan. It comes from New Hampshire. We have neighbors on the street; most of them have never been in the store.”

Ira Schlosser, of the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center, suggested the city and state provide funds to increase marketing of local businesses. But state Rep. Marty Walsh (D-Savin Hill), vice chair of the committee, said lawmakers are facing a tough budget year and are having to choose between funding marketing programs or a program for people suffering from mental illness.

“Those are the decisions we have on Beacon Hill,” he said. He encour
aged small businesses to call their congressmen about federal loans that are available. “What you need to do is reach out,” he said.

Oscar Moreno, the branch manager for the Mount Washington Bank in Codman Square, wants the city to pay more attention to litter and parking in the area. “Parking is not enforced. There’s no place to park,” he said, adding, “There needs to be more [trash] pickup.”
Romanow said he attempted to take the litter problem into his own hands, putting an extra trash barrel out on the street. But a city inspector fined him $200 for apparent obstruction of the sidewalk.

Several small business owners also complained that the state’s health care reform law was having an adverse effect on them. For example, an employee may be covered by a spouse, but the employer could still be assessed a penalty by the state for not covering the employee. Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, co-chair of the committee, said if that isn’t fixed through regulations, lawmakers will file legislation to correct the “unintended consequence” of health care reform.

The committee will also hold a hearing in the next few weeks on Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to limit small business health insurance rate increases to below 3.2 percent of medical inflation costs.
The tour’s stop in Boston occurred a day before the state authority in charge of implementing the Bay State health care reform efforts launched a new insurance product aimed at businesses with 50 or fewer employees. The new product, called the “Business Express,” could save small businesses over $300 per employee per year because of a lack of membership fees and reduced administrative costs.

Employers will be able to pick from plans offered by seven insurance carriers, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Celticare, Fallon Community Health Plan, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Health New England, Neighborhood Health Plan, and Tufts Health Plan.

“We have primarily been able to offer products for individuals and families, but now employers will also be able to easily generate side-by-side comparisons of a full array of products and make choices that work best for them and their employees,” said Jon Kingsdale, executive director of the Massachusetts Health Connector Authority, in a statement. “Some select network plans may offer savings between 10 and 15 percent.”

Interested employers can head online to MAhealthconnector.org, or call the Connector’s customer service line at 1-877-MA-ENROLL (1-877-623-6765).

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.