Tim Leeds Havre Daily News tleeds@havredailynews.
Lack of affordable insurance was a reoccurring concern voiced to Sen. Jon Tester Friday by small business owners. Tester held the special listening session specifically to hear what problems these business people face. “The overriding problem is the health care industry,” said Leo Beardsley, “the lack of ability to get health insurance.” Beardsley said that in his investment service he works with many small business owners. The largest problem he hears of is health care, he said. Tester, a member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committees, told the standingroom only crowd in a meeting room at Bear Paw Development Corp. that he is holding listening sessions so he can take information back to Washington to try to help small businesses. Several people at the session told Tester one of the biggest problems facing small business is insurance. Havre Mayor Bob Rice said a young woman had approached him to see if the city had any programs to help her get needed surgery for which she has no insurance. Rice said he had to tell her the city had no way to help. “I hear about it every day,” Rice said. “It breaks my heart. She has her whole life ahead of her and I can’t help.” Tester said that there is a limited pool of money to help with health care, an extremely complicated issue. He said several proposals have b e e n r a i s e d i n Congress, but he doesn’t know, as yet, the best way to get the care to the people w h o n e e d i t . Something, however, has to be done, he said. “We have a system where probably most people in this room can’t afford to get sick because they don’ t have heal th insurance,” he said. Tester added that health insurance is not a partisan issue. “It will not be fixed by Democrats, it will not be fixed by Republicans,” he said. “It will only be fixed by both sides working together. “ If you have any ideas what we can do, baby steps or giant steps, I’m all ears,” he said. Several other issues were raised at the meeting, including the difficulty in getting help with small businesses on Indian reservations. Tony Belcourt of Chippewa Cree Construction at Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation told Tester that even in programs designed to help on reservations, the federal officials don’t seem to know how to run the programs themselves. After answering questions On a federal form, people are told the question has changed, he said. “They don’t even know how to answer the questions themselves,” Belcourt said. Tester said those issues, especially in programs designed to be used in Indian Country, need to resolved. “If it’s not working, that’s a major problem,” he said. Others at the listening session talked about the need to increase the availability of funds from banks, both on and off reservations. “Nothing can change without the banking community on board,” said Todd Hanson of Norsman Sporting Arms & Outfitters. Tester said that while working capital is critically important for business development, great care must be used. One step, he recommended, is for businesses on reservations to invite the banks out to work with them, adding that he has heard from others besides the Chippewa Cree Tribe and Fort Belknap Indian community that it is difficult to work with banks from inside a reservation. As far as providing general capital, Tester said, banks and organizations like Bear Paw Development have a crucial role, but banks have to be careful not to loan money to businesses where the banks would likely lose their investment if the business goes under. “It’s a fine edge we’re walking,” Tester said. He told many people at the session that they could contact his staff members to discuss ways to resolve specific issues they had. His staff members can be reached at (406) 452-9585 or, toll free, at (866) 554-4403.