WASHINGTON - Twenty years after important women’s business legislation was signed into law, Sen. John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, recognized the progress women entrepreneurs have made in developing innovative and prosperous small businesses. The Women’s Business Ownership Act - the first comprehensive small business legislation aimed to help women entrepreneurs succeed - marked its official anniversary on Saturday.

“As the fastest growing segment of the nation’s business community, employing more than 7 million workers and pumping over $1 trillion into the economy, women entrepreneurs are vital to the growth of this nation,” said Kerry. “Despite the immense progress made in the last 20 years, women still face hurdles.”

One of the biggest challenges still facing women business owners is gaining equal access to government contracts. While women-owned firms account for 30 percent of all small businesses, they receive less than 3.5 percent of federal contracts - far short of the five percent goal. To help women compete for federal contracts, Congress passed a set-aside program in 2000, the Women’s Procurement Program. The Small Business Administration (SBA) finalized a rule for the program in September that seriously undermines women’s ability to compete for contracts because of the narrow definition they applied to the program - labeling just 31 of 140 industries studied as underrepresented. Women entrepreneurs have lost more than $6 billion in potential revenue over the last eight years because of a lack of access to contracts. Kerry continues to push for a wider, more inclusive, definition for the program.

“Eight years ago, when Congress passed this law, our intent was to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs,” said Kerry. “This ruling does the opposite, creating more roadblocks for women. Any meaningful change that we could have enacted through this program has now been vastly constrained.”

Kerry has also worked in a bipartisan manner to strengthen the more than 100 Women's Business Centers across the country. Last year, Kerry led passage of an amendment providing permanent funding for established centers and successfully urged the Administration to implement the new program immediately. In addition, Kerry pushed SBA to correct management practices, after Inspector General and Government Accountability Office reports found massive management failures of the Women’s Business Center program. Since the September hearing, management has significantly improved.

“We must do everything in our power to help encourage entrepreneurship in these difficult economic times,” said Kerry. “When run properly, these business centers are valuable resources that help to stimulate innovation, create jobs and boost our economy.”