The stakes will be sky high come November when the United States votes for its next president as well as the representatives and Senators who make up the legislative branch of government (Congress).
Substantive issues will be on the table; these range from economic concerns such as inflation, affordability of health care and the budget deficit, to drug addiction, gun violence and immigration.
Of course, there are many issues of specific concern to the flooring industry. To that end, Floor Covering News asked several prominent retailers to identify the issues that are important to them and how they would like Congress to address it.
I would love for Congress to consider a path for immigrants to get access to a green card by way of legal employment within the skilled trades [or any industry]. We have such a massive shortage of installers entering our industry yet such a large population of individuals ready to take on the work. Providing a path for them to get jobs, pay taxes and support our industry would be a win-win solution no matter which side of the aisle you sit on.
—Lauren Voit, Great Western Flooring
Immigration and the open border are of major concern. Our cities and communities are not capable of handling the influx of people we are experiencing. This will impact our economy for decades to come.
—Sam O’Krent, O’Krent Floors
Congress must solve the immigration situation. We have millions of immigrants who have entered our country. Legislation should be passed that provides training resources to those who are here so they can work, pay taxes, cover their expenses and provide for themselves and their families while a determination is being made about any potential for moving to the back of the line for citizenship. We are in desperate need of laborers as baby boomers retire out of the workforce and newer generations prefer non-manual work.
—Scott Humphrey, WFCA
At the top of my list is the economy, which includes inflation and interest rates—the two things that are dramatically impacting the housing market, which directly affects our flooring industry.
—Sam O’Krent, O’Krent Floors
A combination of interest rate hikes and rising home prices makes home purchases unaffordable for many Americans. A recent report from the Intercontinental Exchange shows mortgage applications in recent months falling to about half of the pre-pandemic levels. This is a major challenge for builder clients and those who supply them.
—AJ Warne, Abraham Linc
I think the most important issue for the next administration is to meaningfully address the deficit. I think I may be in the minority in thinking that the dramatically increasing deficit will eventually create significant problems for the business environment in our country and the fabric of our society. Interest on the deficit is now equal to our defense budget, and it probably will dwarf it in the not-too-distant future. The financial health of the citizenry dramatically affects retailer success in our industry.
—Sam Roberts, Roberts Carpet & Fine Floors
State legislation regarding recycling needs to come to a halt. California was the first state to require flooring manufacturers to apply a fee to every yard of carpet and carpet tile that is sold in the state of California. AB2398 is the bill that was signed into law in 2010, requiring all manufacturers to assess a fee for every yard of carpet and carpet tile sold in the state.
In 2011, the fee was $0.05 per square yard; the current assessment is $0.58 per square yard for carpet and $0.73 per square yard for carpet tile with a $0.02 discount for products containing 10% or more post-consumer content. This year the assessment will go up to $0.70 per square yard for carpet and $0.99 per square yard for carpet tile with a $0.02 discount for products containing 10% or more post-consumer content. California first passed its carpet EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) program in 2010, and Illinois is in the process of considering its own carpet EPR bill. There are probably six other states with active legislation that have come up for vote or were postponed at the last minute. We all need to support lower prices as we fight for our share of disposable income.
—Kevin Rose, Carpetland USA
ISSUE: TAX DEDUCTION FOR PASS-THROUGH BUSINESS
I think the No. 1 issue that many retailers running small businesses face is the expiration of the tax deduction for owners of pass-through businesses, commonly referred to as Section 199A. It is set to expire in 2025 and provides enormous benefits to many flooring retailers. Without this, some businesses may close. Therefore, I am in favor of this provision being extended.
The WFCA is already working closely with a lobbying firm in D.C. on behalf of its members, advocating for this extension.
—Deb DeGraaf, DeGraaf Interiors
ISSUE: SKILLED LABOR
The greatest challenge to the flooring industry remains the lack of skilled installation professionals. Though this challenge requires an industry response, Congress can help by passing legislation that allows for billions in unused COVID-19 funds to be used to promote the trades and offset training cost, specifically allowing Pell grants to be used for short-term training opportunities.
—Scott Humphrey, WFCA
The skilled labor pool for flooring installation—and other trades—should be addressed in Congress. Creating effective programs for graduating high school students to receive trade and technical educations would create a stronger workforce to drive our economy. The average age of installers in the U.S. is getting dangerously close to retirement age for such a physical occupation; if we don’t act soon, we could be facing a crisis even worse than the one we’re currently facing.
—AJ Warne, Abraham Linc
Cybercrime and fraud are topics of great concern. We just purchased additional insurance to protect our company in the event of an attack. Ironically, we had a bout with fraud recently—check washing—and I know other retailers who have dealt with this as well. We’ve tried to eliminate as many check payments as possible and made as many ACH payments instead as a way to mitigate the risk.
—Tom Heffner, About All Floors
ISSUE: TERM LIMITS
Term limits are the only way we can bring true reform in Washington. Senators should have two terms (12 years). Representatives presently serve two-year terms. That’s wrong. Our election cycles continue to get longer, so in essence they are preparing for re-election as soon as they get into office. Representatives should serve four-year terms with a limit of three terms. They were elected to Congress to do our bidding, not become wealthy elitists. This is a calling, not a career. That would be a seismic shift in policymaking while holding Congress accountable for performance.
—Olga Robertson, FCA Network
ISSUE: SUBCONTRACTOR VS. EMPLOYEE
There needs to be a clear and consistent message about subcontractors. There is a chance that subcontractors could be done away with or have such a strict “test” to follow that very few will qualify as a sub. The simple act of being the messenger from the store to the installer on behalf of the customer—stating which direction the floors go—fails one of the current tests out there. In that case, the sub would be classified as an employee. We need subcontractors to keep installation pricing affordable to consumers while installers still get a fair wage. But if they were employees, it would raise installation pricing to cover all the taxes and fees and limit what the installer can do. There are other reasons why subcontractors should stay subcontractors.
My solution: Lawmakers should get out of D.C. and on the ground floor to see what is happening out there. Do this before making a test that you have not experienced that will affect so many people. This should be an industry test, not an umbrella test. If I could have a politician shadow me for one day they would understand more about the causes and effects of their decisions in D.C.
—Typhannie Harker, Carpeting by Mike
A significant issue for floor covering stores involves the stance taken by the IRS and various states on the eligibility for self-employment status of floor covering installers, especially when these independent contractors receive a 1099 from the floor covering store. Despite an installer’s choice to operate independently, the government may retroactively mandate the store to categorize them as an employee, resulting in fines and penalties. The government has even gone as far as to take money directly out of our bank account and make us prove that they shouldn’t have … We learned to take all notifications seriously because our neglect to respond triggered this action.
We advocate for the establishment of clear and reasonable guidelines to determine when an installer should be treated as an independent contractor, ensuring a fair and transparent framework for both businesses and independent workers in the floor covering industry.