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DelBene Joins Reps. Chu and Maloney in Introducing Legislation to Support Women-Owned Small Businesses

At a time when women make up half of the workforce, women-owned businesses still face huge challenges.

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Washington, DC, September 18, 2014 | comments

Today, Representatives Suzan DelBene (WA-01), Judy Chu (CA-27), and Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) introduced legislation aimed at giving women entrepreneurs equal treatment when it comes to starting and growing their own businesses. The “Women’s Small Business Ownership Act of 2014” would improve access to lending and increase business counseling and training services for women entrepreneurs, and give women-owned businesses the same level of access to federal contracts as other disadvantaged groups.  Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced companion legislation in the Senate in July.

“We are making progress, but we know that many women-owned businesses still do not have equal access to economic opportunity,” said U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene (WA-01), a former businesswoman and entrepreneur. “We need to do more to advance an economic agenda that supports women, both as business owners and as workers.  I am proud to introduce this bill and I will continue fighting for policies that make sure we build an economy that works for everyone.”

“For the first time in nearly a decade, the federal government met its 23 percent contracting goal for small businesses last year. However, the federal government failed to meet its modest 5 percent contracting goal for women-owned small businesses,” said Rep. Judy Chu. “This is concerning when you consider women make up more than half of the U.S. population and a third of all businesses nationwide. The Women’s Small Business Ownership Act will provide more opportunities for women-owned small businesses in accessing federal contracts, which will help women earn more for themselves and their families while creating jobs for our economy.”

“Women in the Hudson Valley are more likely to be the breadwinners, caretakers, innovators, and leaders at home and at work – providing the tools women need to start and grow their own businesses strengthens our economy and our communities. When women have the tools they need to succeed in their homes and workplaces, our communities and economy succeed,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18).

“We need to work to close the gender gap and ensure women entrepreneurs get tools they need to spur economic growth,” said Senator Maria Cantwell, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. “I applaud Congresswoman DelBene’s leadership on this critical bill to ensure that women-owned businesses have more opportunities to create jobs in their communities.”

The legislation adopts recommendations from a recent Senate Small Business Committee report, 21st Century Barriers to Women’s Entrepreneurship, that showed significant barriers for women looking to start or grow their own business. The  report highlighted how women-owned businesses represent a $3 trillion economic force and support 23 million jobs, but still face significant barriers compared to their male-owned counterparts. Women entrepreneurs account for just $1 out of every $23 in small business lending, despite representing 30 percent of all small companies. They are also more likely to be turned down for loans or face less favorable terms than men.

To address those gaps, the legislation would:

  • Expand and improve the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Microloan and Intermediary Lending programs to reach more women borrowers who need up to $50,000, as well as 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. Women often face difficulty in getting right-sized loans that fit their needs, according to the report, and this will help fill a gap not met by traditional private lending. 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.
  • Allow 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 percent of contracts to women-owned businesses – a goal that has never been reached since it was established by legislation 20 years ago.  When this goal is not reached, women-owned companies miss out on $4 billion in federal contracting opportunities each year.
  • Increase funding for the Women’s Business Center program to expand and improve counseling and training services to reach more women entrepreneurs, especially in low-income areas. The program, overseen by SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership, issues grants to nonprofits that provide these services. The centers assist 150,000 clients annually, and 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. The legislation would reauthorize the program through 2019 and nearly double the annual funding authorization. It also would establish clear metrics to measure each center’s success.
  • Require data on women-owned small businesses by establishing a 2015 deadline for an SBA study to identify industries in which women-owned small businesses are under-represented. The original deadline was 2018.

The Women’s Small Business Ownership Act has received strong support from key stakeholders including Women Impacting Public Policy, the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, the Association of Women’s Business Centers, U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the National Venture Capital Association, and 32 community development organizations from 20 states.

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