At 68 years old, I hoped I might be retired from my construction company. Instead, I still go to work every day, installing cabinets in office buildings, businesses, and homes. On weekends, I travel up to 100 miles all around the San Antonio area, fixing people’s homes and doing remodeling jobs. 

I own my own business, have plenty of work, and work hard. But even working 80-hour weeks, I can barely make ends meet. Despite living in a sober living home with nine roommates for just $400 a month, I can barely keep up with my bills because of a loan I had to take out for my business and a loan on my truck. Plus, with all the driving to and from jobs, the high gas prices eat up a lot of what I earn. 

Millions of people in San Antonio and across America are in the same situation. A minimum wage earner would have to work 100 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment in San Antonio. Affordable housing programs have already helped over 45,000 families in the city, but many more are still in need of support.

It seems to me that if you put the work in, you should be able to live a decent life, even if you’ve made mistakes in the past. But after more than a decade struggling to keep my head above water, I’ve realized that hard work isn’t enough. Working-class Texans like me need jobs that pay more, and basic necessities that cost less. We need help for people running small businesses, and more housing that everyday working people can afford. 

The infrastructure and budget reconciliation bills that Congress is debating would go a long way toward doing just that — and getting us out of the hole the pandemic put us in. They would make a big federal investment in small businesses, jobs, infrastructure, and affordable housing. Texas would receive over $30 billion for highway repairs and public transportation, along with $100 million for expanding broadband internet access, billions for affordable housing, and more money for small business owners.

That would help small businessmen like me in a few ways: better roads mean I could get around more easily in my truck, more support for families means my customers would have more money to invest in home improvements, I could get a small loan to expand my business, and I could maybe finally have a place of my own. 

It seems like there is concern among the politicians that it’s not the time to spend big. But with how hard it’s become to live an affordable life in San Antonio and how COVID-19 has set a lot of families back, a big investment in jobs, health care, housing, and infrastructure is exactly what we need. Now is not the time to pinch pennies; the people in my community need relief.

I’m trying to do all the right things: serve my customers, contribute to the economy, stay sober, and try to grow enough to hire more people. I’d love to build my business and hire staff if I could afford to pay them a decent wage. And after working on other people’s houses all day, it would be nice to have a house of my own to come home to. I would be closer to achieving this if Congress can step back from their debate and see that, in the long run, they’ll get a big return on their investment in our communities.

Michael Happs

Michael Happs lives in San Antonio and is a member of WorkMoney, a nonprofit advocacy organization. He is a small business owner, and has worked in construction for over a decade.