(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) today introduced the Women’s Business Centers Improvement Act of 2022—legislation to reauthorize and improve the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Women’s Business Center (WBC) Program.
“Women’s Business Centers stepped up to help small businesses navigate the unprecedented challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cardin said. “Americans are registering new businesses in record numbers and women entrepreneurs are leading the way. WBCs need to be prepared to support and nurture this new generation of entrepreneurs. I am proud to work with Senators Shaheen, Hirono and Duckworth to introduce the Women’s Business Centers Improvement Act. Our bill will empower WBCs nationwide to deliver entrepreneurial development and business mentorship to the communities that need them most.”
“Women business owners and entrepreneurs are at the heart of ingenuity and economic development across the Granite State. Ensuring women have access to resources, assistance and mentorship is key to leveling the playing field and empowering women to lead,” said Senator Shaheen. “I’m proud to help introduce this bill to support Women’s Business Centers, which help position women at the helm of the small business community.”
“As our economy continues to recover from the pandemic, supply chain issues, and labor shortages, it is important that we do everything we can to support our small, local businesses. This bill will increase access to crucial resources and opportunities for women businessowners in Hawaii and across the country,” said Senator Hirono. “Last month, I visited the only Women’s Business Center in Hawaii—the Patsy T. Mink Center for Business & Leadership—where I saw, firsthand, the ways these centers are supporting female entrepreneurs and enabling their success. I am proud to cosponsor the Women’s Business Center Improvement Act.”
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Women’s Business Centers across the nation have served as a critical lifeline for women small business owners and entrepreneurs—helping them start, grow or recover their businesses as well as boost our economy as a whole,” said Senator Duckworth. “As we continue our efforts to strengthen economic opportunities for women entrepreneurs nationwide, I’m proud to join Chair Cardin and my colleagues in introducing this legislation to reauthorize WBCs and help ensure they have the resources to do what they do best: support women’s businesses.”
“Small businesses are the heart of Nevada’s economy, and unfortunately many of them, particularly women-owned businesses, were hit incredibly hard by the pandemic,” said Senator Rosen. “I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing legislation to reauthorize and expand this critical program so that women-owned small businesses can continue having access to the resources they need to thrive.”
The Women’s Business Center program is a national network of more than 140 centers that offer counseling, training, networking, workshops, technical assistance, and mentoring to entrepreneurs. WBCs support entrepreneurs at all stages of the business development process, including assistance with writing a business plan, conducting market research, navigating the federal procurement process, and other business management and operations skills. The program played a key role in the SBA’s support of small businesses during the pandemic. WBCs served more than 88,000 clients in 2021, which is a 36 percent increase from the 64,000 clients served in 2019.
While WBCs serve all entrepreneurs, they are required by law to serve a representative number of socially and economically disadvantaged women. As a result, WBCs often offer more flexible hours and programming when compared to other entrepreneurial development programs offered by the SBA.
The Women’s Business Centers Improvement Act of 2022 will give the SBA and WBCs the tools necessary to meet the demands of a historic boom in new business formation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans registered 5.4 million new businesses in 2021—the highest total on record and a nearly 2 million increase from 2019 when there were 3.5 million new business applications.
Currently, the SBA provides grants up to $150,000 annually to eligible private, nonprofit, and community-based organizations to operate WBCs. Current law also requires grant recipients to match every $2 in federal funding with $1 in nonfederal funds during the first two years of the program followed by a 1:1 federal-nonfederal match for each year thereafter. The nonfederal match may be in the form of cash, in-kind contributions, and program income. The statute is long overdue for an update.
The Women’s Business Centers Improvement Act of 2022 will increase federal support to WBCs by doubling the maximum annual grant award to $300,000. Cardin’s bill also empowers the SBA administrator to provide greater flexibility to smaller, more under-resourced WBCs. Under the bill, the SBA administrator may waive, in whole or in part, the nonfederal match requirement for one year based on an analysis of the economic conditions of the grant recipient, the demonstrated ability of the recipient to raise nonfederal funds, and the past performance of the recipient. The bill also sets the responsibilities of the WBCs and requires the SBA to establish an accreditation program for WBCs. Additionally, the bill clarifies the duties of the SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership and codifies the office’s mission in statute among other provisions.
The bill is endorsed by the Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC).
“On behalf of the AWBC, we celebrate the Senate’s introduction of the Women's Business Centers Improvement Act of 2022. We commend Chair Cardin for his leadership in this legislation and the greater small business committee’s commitment to enhancing resources and opportunities for women entrepreneurs across the nation. Reauthorization and modernization of the Women’s Business Center program will tangibly support America’s 12.3 million women entrepreneurs that continue to face barriers to capital access, knowledge, support and more,” said AWBC Chief Executive Officer Corinne Hodges. “AWBC is committed to supporting 146 women’s business centers (WBCs) across the nation, and the women entrepreneurs they serve by providing counseling, training, networking, workshops, technical assistance, and mentoring to women entrepreneurs. We urge the Senate to pass this legislation as it takes an important step towards economic parity for women business owners in the United States.”
Click here to download PDF of the bill text.