In the news

PennPIRG Education Fund
Erie Times-News
David Bruce

EDINBORO -- Jane Zimmer has had several opportunities to expand her Edinboro cleaning company since she started Jane's E-Z Cleaners in 1984.

Businesses have wanted Zimmer to vacuum their carpets, empty their trash cans and dust their desks. But she has reluctantly turned them down.

"I sit down and do the costs of expanding my business," said Zimmer, 60, who currently cleans five businesses and about 20 residences a week with a staff of four part-time workers. "And I realize that I can't afford to hire full-time employees and provide them with health care."

Zimmer will share her frustration today with U.S. Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Zimmer is one of about 110 small-business owners traveling to Washington, D.C., to see their respective congressional leaders. Their trip is an effort by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group to show Congress that these business people want health-care reform.

"Small businesses are getting hurt by the status quo in health-care coverage," said Catherine Ngo, a field organizer with the Pennsylvania branch of PIRG, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public-interest advocacy organization.

Zimmer was asked to join the delegation by the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, a coalition of organizations that seek to increase access to health care. She said that she would like to see health-care reform that ensures that every American receives coverage no matter what existing medical conditions they might have.

She also wants health-insurance premiums to go toward coverage -- not CEO salaries.

"I hope that whichever bill makes it through Congress, it states that so much of every dollar from premiums goes to health care," Zimmer said.

Not all small-business owners share Zimmer's belief about health-care reform.

The Manufacturer & Business Association, which represents small- and medium-sized businesses in northwestern Pennsylvania, sent out a news release Friday denouncing the Affordable Health Care for America Act, the reform bill currently in the House of Representatives.

Association President Ralph Pontillo said the bill would result in a 5.4 percent surtax on business incomes over $500,000.

"This isn't take-home money for our small businesses; this is a massive tax on their working capital," Pontillo said. "It equates to a federal tax rate that will increase to nearly 50 percent."

Zimmer expects to meet one-on-one with Dahlkemper, of Erie, D-3rd Dist., then attend an 11:45 a.m. briefing at the White House with Sebelius and Karen Mills, head of the Small Business Administration.

"I don't know what I will accomplish," Zimmer said. "I'm just surprised to be asked to participate in this."

DAVID BRUCE can be reached at 870-1736 or by e-mail.

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