I’m a small business owner — I run the Cranmore Inn in the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire with my husband. To say that the last year and a half has been nerve-racking would be an understatement.
It’s been a hard time to be in the hospitality industry, which is so critical to New Hampshire’s economy. More than 50,000 people work in the hospitality industry here; the sector, according to a 2014 study, contributes over $2.52 billion to the state’s economy, and New Hampshire’s rooms and meals tax is our state government’s third largest revenue generator. For our sector, and others, to fully recover and thrive, we have got to have a sensible paid leave plan that’s accessible to small businesses as well as large ones.
During the pandemic, fewer travelers meant that for us, revenue was down 30 percent. We didn’t need as many staff, but we also had employees impacted by COVID-19 — like an employee who had to quarantine for two weeks — which meant more work for the rest of the staff. It was a hard time to run a small business, knowing that my own family’s stability and the stability of the people who work here was at stake.
In my own life, I’ve seen how health and other challenges can expose individuals and families to vulnerability. My dad had a heart attack when I was 15 years old — he was self-employed, so paid leave wasn’t an option. My dad was out of work for six months, and my parents didn’t expect that. We were lucky and we made it, but it highlighted for me how unpredictable the need for leave can be, and how important it is to know you won’t be left alone, scared and worried that your family might suffer.
I had a health scare myself once — appendicitis. I was lucky — I was able to recover with my salary still coming in. But it’s not like that for most people in the Granite State. And hoping to be lucky is no way to run a business or a country.
As an employer in New Hampshire I know how difficult depending on luck is for our staff. A disruption to work and income could cause them to lose their home, be unable to pay for groceries or utilities, or worse, so having a program in place to replace income when some of life’s most challenging moments occur is critical for everyone who works for a living.
And having a national paid leave program in place to prevent the small businesses like ours from having to bear the full costs of the kind of comprehensive paid leave all working people deserve is also important. A big hotel chain, maybe — but for inns and hotels like ours, which are rooted in our communities and contribute so much to them financially, as much as we’d like to give our employees critical important benefits like paid leave, that’s just not a reality without some help.
In New Hampshire right now, even unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act is inaccessible for 59 percent of working people. Passing a sensible Paid Leave plan could reduce the number of working families in New Hampshire facing significant economic insecurity when they need to take family and medical leave by 83 percent.
I’ve always been an independent sort of person who tries to balance the needs of myself and my family with the needs of the greater community. I think most people in New Hampshire approach life that way too — we don’t put “Live Free or Die” on our license plates for nothing. And a national paid leave program is all about freedom — the freedom not to have to choose between their family and their job at a time of crisis. The freedom to start a small business, on a level playing field with the big corporate types. The freedom to take time you need to be healthy, or to care for your family the way you need to. The freedom to live the kind of life that makes our businesses, our communities, and our state strong.
I hope the Senate acts quickly to pass Paid Family and Medical Leave as part of jobs and economic recovery legislation, and I hope New Hampshire’s U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen are leading the charge. It will make such a difference to the lives of people and the economy in New Hampshire.
Christopher Bellis co-owns the Cranmore Inn in North Conway.