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Hirono Introduces Legislation to Reauthorize & Improve Women’s Business Center Program, Enhancing Support for Local Entrepreneurs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), member of the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, joined Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chair of the Senate Small Business Committee, and several of their Senate Democratic colleagues in introducing 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. The WBC program played a key role in the SBA’s support of small businesses during the pandemic. The business centers, including the Patsy T. Mink Center for Business & Leadership on Oahu, served more than 88,000 clients in 2021, a 36 percent increase from the 64,000 clients served in 2019.

“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.”

In Hawaii, the Patsy T. Mink Center for Business & Leadership is the only SBA-designated Women’s Business Center. From 2019 to 2020, the Center trained over 1,700 program participants and hosted 55 training events. These efforts enabled the creation of 12 new businesses and supported over 850 jobs.

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. Women’s Business Centers (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. 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.

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:

  • Gives the SBA and WBCs the tools necessary to meet the demands of a historic boom in new business formation;
  • Increases federal support to WBCs by doubling the maximum annual grant award to $300,000;
  • Empowers the SBA Administrator to provide greater flexibility to smaller, more under-resourced WBCs;
  • Sets the responsibilities of the WBCs and requires the SBA to establish an accreditation program for WBCs; and
  • Clarifies the duties of the SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership and codifies the office’s mission in statute among other provisions.

Additionally, 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.

In addition to Senators Hirono and Cardin, the Women’s Business Centers Improvement Act of 2022 is also sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).

The bill is endorsed by the Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC).

As a member of the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, Senator Hirono has worked to secure federal support for Hawaii’s local, small businesses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, she hosted the U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabella Guzman for a tour of organizations supporting small businesses and small businesses on Oahu. They visited the Patsy T. Mink Center for Business & Leadership (MCBL), which was established by YWCA Oahu, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and a community of partners to become the only Women’s Business Center (WBC) in Hawaii.

The full text of the bill is available here.