WASHINGTON –Senators Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) are seeking to expand small business opportunities for Native Americans as the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship enters the reauthorization process for Small Business Administration (SBA) programs this year.

Johnson sponsored the bipartisan Native American Small Business Development Act (S. 1907), along with Kerry and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), which would create an Office of Native American Affairs within the SBA and establish three assistance programs, including two pilot programs.

“Fostering small business growth is an important step toward increasing employment prospects and improving local economies in Indian Country,” said Johnson, the author of the legislation and a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “The unfortunate reality is that jobs and business opportunities are unacceptably scarce in native communities. This legislation would help provide the proper resources so that more people in Indian Country will have the assistance they need to launch new, self-sustaining businesses.”

According to the SBA’s Office of Advocacy, the American Indian and Alaska Native community is one of the fastest growing business groups in the country. Yet, nearly 25 percent of the country’s American Indian and Alaska Native populations live in poverty.

“There are huge small business opportunities just waiting to be tapped into. We should be building on the energy and excitement among Native American entrepreneurs with more contracting opportunities and more access to capital, and that's exactly what we intend to do,” said Kerry, top Democrat on the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

In addition to creating the Office of Native American Affairs, the legislation specifically:

  • Calls for an Assistant Administrator to communicate and cooperate with Tribal Colleges, Tribal Governments, Alaska Native Corporations, and Native Hawaiian Organizations to provide culturally tailored small business development assistance to Native Americans;

  • Creates a $5 million a year grant program over five years for Tribal Governments and Tribal Colleges to provide business training to the Native American community through Native American Business Centers;

  • Establishes a $1 million a year pilot grant program over four years to provide culturally-tailored business development training to Native Americans through small business development centers or non-profit organizations; and

  • Provides a $1 million a year pilot program to award grants for small businesses located on or near Tribal lands.

Today Johnson and Kerry sent a letter to Sen. Olympia Snowe, Chair of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, encouraging her to address the needs of the Native American community in reauthorization legislation.

Additional cosponsors include Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).