Local View: Family and Medical Leave plan good for small business

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I'm a small-business owner. I want my business to succeed -- and I want my community to grow and prosper. That's why I strongly support the Family and Medical Leave Insurance proposal being considered by the Legislature. And that's why I disagree with the Jan. 29 Columbian editorial that opposed paid family leave in Washington.

One of my employees could benefit from this bill right now. His wife just had emergency surgery, and she has a long recovery ahead of her. He's trying to juggle caring for her and their three teenagers with working enough hours to keep them afloat. Family and Medical Leave Insurance would provide up to 12 weeks of wage insurance in situations like his, so he could focus on his family and worry less about bills. It would also cover time off if one of my employees had a new baby, or a serious health condition.

Other states have this kind of insurance, so we know the costs are affordable: about $1 a week each for the average worker and the employer to cover family leave, and another $1 for medical leave. Yes, times have been tough for businesses like mine for the past few years -- but that premium would be a good investment for the protection it affords.

Examine all the costs

In fact, it's actually costing our community and state a lot more not to have this kind of insurance available. How many kids make mistakes when their parents are distracted by a health crisis that becomes a financial crisis? I think there would be much less stress on teenagers if all parents had a little more support to care for their children from the start. Family and medical leave insurance will let new moms and dads take time away from work without going broke or risking their jobs. And doing that will help create bonds of love and trust strong enough to hold through the rocky teenage years.

Anyone, parent or not, can be in a car accident, or get cancer, or have a spouse or aging parent suffer a health emergency. But many small companies like mine can't cover long periods of leave. I don't think good benefits should depend on having a generous employer. Our economy, and our workforce, can't depend on that. Family and medical leave insurance -- paid for by both employees and employers -- will protect both.

My employees are important to the success of my business -- and so are loyal customers. When people's budgets are tight, they postpone car repairs and don't patronize other neighborhood businesses as much. By helping to ensure a new baby or medical condition doesn't throw a working family into poverty, family and medical leave insurance will boost our economy and save the government money on social services.

Family and medical leave will be good for my business, but that's not the main reason I support it. I'm for it because it will strengthen families in my community, and there's nothing more important than that.

Don Orangeis the owner of an auto repair and tire store in downtown Vancouver, and chair of the Main Street Alliance of Washington (http://www.washington.mainstreetalliance.org/)