On the heel of reports that women business owners still lag behind men in accessing loans and federal contracts, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) has introduced a bill that would reauthorize the women’s business center program of the Small Business Administration, and for other purposes. Senate Bill 2693: The Women’s Small Business Ownership Act of 2014 nearly doubles funding for Women’s Business Centers, increases federal contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses, and increases microlending.
“This is a big win and a milestone for the National Women’s Business Council, the movement, and the millions of women across the country. The Women’s Small Business Ownership Act of 2014 will open doors to more money, more contracting opportunities, and more training for women to start, grow, and scale their businesses. The Women’s Small Business Ownership Act of 2014 creates a pathway to success, and calls for much-needed remedies to the barriers and challenges that are realities for too many women,” said NWBC Executive Director Amanda Brown in response to the legislation.
As BlackEnterprise.com reported last month, the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship’s recent report revealed women-owned businesses represent a $3 trillion economic force and support 23 million jobs, that women-owned businesses still face significant barriers compared to their male-owned counterparts. “This is a sobering reality for countless women entrepreneurs. It is time to close the gender gap for women entrepreneurs. It is time to break through the 21st century glass ceiling,” Brown added.
Key components of the legislation include:
- Reauthorize the SBA Intermediary Lending program — now a pilot program — to provide more women access to loans between $50,000 and $200,000. The legislation would allow Microloan lenders to increase lending capacity from $5 million to $7 million and improve the program to better meet borrowers’ needs through more flexible terms and expanded technical assistance. The Microloan program targets new and early-stage small businesses as well as borrowers with limited credit history who can’t receive financing from a traditional lending institution.
- Allowing sole-source contracting for federal contracts awarded through the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract program, which would put women-owned businesses on equal footing with other disadvantaged groups in the contracting process. The legislation would change current law, and aims to help the federal government meet its goal of awarding 5% of contracts to women-owned businesses – a goal that has never been reached since it was established by legislation 20 years ago.
- Increasing funding for the Women’s Business Center program to expand and improve counseling and training services. The program, overseen by SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership, issues grants to nonprofit centers that assist 150,000 clients annually and has helped women to access more than $25 million in capital in fiscal year 2013. The centers help address the unique challenges women entrepreneurs face, such as less capital to invest and responsibility for child care or elder care.