TRACY CITY, Tenn. - The owner of the state's oldest bakery on Wednesday blamed widespread job cuts on government regulations, and her congressman promised to help her.
Entering its 109th year of business, Dutch Maid Bakery has four full-time employees at two locations. It recently staffed 14 workers at its two sites, but occasional turnover led to steep unemployment benefits and other financial losses, according to owner Cindy Day.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., visiting the bakery as part of his weeklong "Job Creators" tour, sympathized with Day and claimed "the federal bureaucracy" charges employers $8,900 per employee to keep up with regulations.
Asked to give examples, DesJarlais mentioned minimum wage increases, unemployment benefits and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines.
"That's a lot of cookies at 69 cents each," Day said, adding the two dozen residents who'd come to see DesJarlais were "more customers than we've had all week."
DesJarlais, of South Pittsburg, characterized unemployment benefits as an "impediment" to small-business job creation, which he said he was elected to expedite.
Three counties in Tennessee's 4th Congressional District - the state's largest, curving across 24 counties from Southeast Tennessee to a point below Nashville - are among the top 10 counties in Tennessee with the highest jobless rates, including Scott County at 23.2 percent. More than a quarter of the district's residents depend on food stamps for groceries and other necessities, according to the U.S. Department of Human Services.
Small-business gripes expanded to the federal government after DesJarlais' meeting with Day concluded. Residents went after the Environmental Protection Agency - one called it the nation's "shadow government" - along with President Barack Obama's health care reform plan.
As a collective groan swallowed a question about "Obamacare," DesJarlais replied: "That's a program people didn't ask for, can't afford and don't want - nobody has stopped complaining."
Several said health care reform prevented them from hiring more workers. The president's plan offers some small-business owners a choice between paying a $2,000 penalty or buying $8,000 health insurance benefit plans for each worker.
The congressman offered few specifics about how he could encourage deregulation, but he said the nation's lawmakers had "two to six years" to repair the nation's finances.
"Stay tuned, watch what happens over the next few months," DesJarlais told the crowd.