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New Report from the White House Council on Women and Girls

 

This month the White House released a report on the status of women and girls of color in the United States. The report, compiled by the White House Council on Women and Girls, covers everything from education to criminal and juvenile justice, and is an important step in assessing the policies that have had a positive impact, as well as areas that could be improved. 

 

According to the report, women of color have made great economic gains over the last 5 years, including increasingly choosing careers in entrepreneurship. Black women-owned business increased by 258 percent from 1997-2013, while Hispanic women-owned businesses increased by 180 percent, Asian American women-owned businesses by 156 percent and American Indian/Alaska Native women-owned businesses increased by 108 percent. As the rate of women entrepreneurship has risen, so has the number of small business loans made to women. From fiscal year 2013-2014, the SBA has increased the number of 7(a) loans made to women in all areas, including Black, Hispanic, AAPI and American Indian/Alaska Native women. 

 

In addition to the increasing number of SBA loans made to women of color, we have also seen more government programs focused on providing women with the tools they need to make their businesses successful. Nearly one third of businesses in the SBA 8(a) Business Development Program are women-owned, while the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program has increased the number of federal contracting dollars going to women-owned small businesses by 7.5 percent between 2012 and 2013. 


Despite these gains, women of color still have many barriers facing their economic success. High rates of unemployment, unequal pay, and under-representation in management positions affect all women, but have a larger impact on women of color. As President Obama noted, women of color "struggle ever day with biases that perpetuate oppressive standards for how they're supposed to look and how they're supposed to act. Too often they're either left under the hard light of scrutiny, or cloaked in a kind of invisibility". In order to combat these challenges, it's necessary to look at both race and gender as barriers to success, and to understand the complexity that occurs when they intersect.
 


Women Impacting Public Policy joined a recent White House Business Council Meeting to share how various policies are affecting women business owners across the country. The meeting included several White House staff along with top officials from the Department of Commerce and the Small Business Administration.

 

At the meeting, WIPP stressed the importance of capital access as the critical issue for women business owners looking to start and grow their companies, and highlighted WIPP's 2013 Annual Survey finding that it takes an average of two attempts for women business owners to secure funding.

 

Commerce Undersecretary for Economic Affairs, Mark Doms, agreed that the economy would be best served by giving business owners more access to capital. The Commerce Department's new strategic plan, America is Open for Business, reflects that priority by stressing innovation and investment.  

 

SBA Associate Administrator for Capital Access Ann Marie Mehlum concurred, saying her office will continue to identify opportunities to expand access while strengthening SBA's already available capital access programs. She went on to highlight the 7(a) loan program, which supported more than $15 billion in small business loans in FY13.

 

The meeting closed with a discussion of how trade can be used to fuel growth for businesses of all sizes. The Administration agreed there is a need for streamlining and simplification in exporting as well as engaging the women's business community on the value of selling goods and services abroad. Both of those priorities are at the front of WIPP's ExportNOW program that encourages women entrepreneurs to grow beyond our borders.

 

These meetings are open dialogues with policymakers, giving WIPP's advocacy team the opportunity to share ideas and concerns raised by WIPP's members.

Grassroots Advocacy at its Finest

2:30 PM May 7, 2013

Women Impacting Public Policy exists to give women entrepreneurs a seat at the legislative roundtable in our nation's capital; and WIPP members nation-wide are stepping up to fill that seat. No matter how many boots we have on the ground in Washington, there is nothing more powerful for Members of Congress than hearing from their own constituents, so our members have been meeting with their Representatives in their home districts.

Members have met with their Senators and Representatives to share how the policies manufactured in DC can affect their lives as small business owners. In addition to sharing how legislation affects entrepreneurs, our members are also sharing some policy guidelines for important issues. Chief among the topics discussed during these meetings are procurement and access to capital.

WIPP is dedicated to building a robust Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program (WOSB) that will allow the government to reach and hopefully exceed its 5% goal for contracting to women-owned businesses. In FY12, the first year of the WOSB program, only $72.5 million was awarded to women-owned businesses - that is less than the cost of a single drone. With the recent lifting of the contract award limits on the WOSB program we expect this program to successfully do what it was intended: help women do business with the world's largest customer, he federal government.

Another area of policy that needs attention I access to capital. Every time we survey our vast array of members, access to capital is continually atop the list of concerns for small business owners. Our members have used their meetings as a forum for discussion toward addressing the dearth of capital for our entrepreneurs; to that end they have helped us urge Congress to take the following steps to free up much needed capital: One, raise the current cap on credit union lending to small businesses. Two, urge the Securities and Exchange Commission to promulgate rules to allow crowdfunding to thrive. Three, support the SBA Microloan program. Four, increase funding or much needed financial business training for women-owned businesses through programs funded through the SBA and the Department of Agriculture.

Bringing these messages to congress will no only help alleviate the impediments to growth set on our businesses today, but will also help shape the policies of tomorrow. Together with the support of our partners, the powerful advocacy of our members and the cooperation of our Representatives of Congress, we will unleash the power of America's fastest growing economic segment - women entrepreneurs.

By Cielo Villasenor, WIPP Government Relations

No, Congress has not averted the fiscal cliff (yet). But for women-owned businesses, yesterday's work represents a major victory more than a decade in the making. In fact, this story is nothing short of a miracle.

 

The miracle (in case you could not wait until the end): a proposal to remove award limits in the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contracting Program is included in the annual Defense authorization bill. More specifically, an amendment to the bill, sponsored by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA), was officially added late Monday afternoon.

 

The provision removes the current caps on WOSB contracts, barriers to successful procurement. That headline, more details, and a great quote from WIPP President Barbara Kasoff can be found in the press release here.

 

But to really appreciate this win, this miracle even, it is important to know more of the story...

 

It all began more twelve years ago, when the women business community began advocating for a contracting program for women-owned businesses. This was in response to the consistent failure of the government to meet the Congressionally set goal of awarding 5% of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned businesses(yes, that is where the "5" in the Give Me 5 program comes from).

 

A little later, eleven years later that is, that program came to fruition. In February 2011, the federal government initiated WOSB set-asides and the WOSB Federal Contract Program was born. (It is important to note, however, that even with the program the government has still consistently failed to meet the 5% goal acrosall agencies.)

 

The program, however, came with a caveat; there were caps on the contracts that could be included in the set-aside program. In other words, women-owned business procurement efforts had come a very long way--but it certainly was not complete. And, despite tireless efforts by many women-business advocates in both the House and Senate, when Congress recessed in September of this year for the elections it appeared that is would stay that way.

 

Enter a new, but major character: the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2013. As far as annual authorization bills go, this is a big one (it even has a regularly recognized acronym: NDAA) because it authorizes annual spending for the Defense Department. The House passed their version in May, but was yet to be considered in the Senate.

 

If averting the fiscal cliff is the number one priority for the lame-duck session, the NDAA is a close second. With only a narrow window before the 113th Congress begins, women's business advocates on Capitol Hill considered the removal of the WOSB caps during this Congress a long shot.

 

Just consider how damaging these caps have been. The caps currently prevent a WOSB set-aside contract from exceeding a value of $4 million ($6.5 millon in manufacturing contracts). Although nearly five million dollars seems like a large contract, it is important to note that in FY2011, $537 billion--billion, with a "b"--was spent in federal contracting. It is little wonder the government failed to reach its contracting goal with women, when it prohibited the awarding of significant contracts.

 

These caps prevented federal agencies from using the set-aside program to actively deliver the most lucrative of government contracts. This issue was even critical enough to include in WIPP's 2012 legislative priorities. In other words, the palying field only seemed equal--and how WOSB set-asides were faced with these limits.

 

These restraints seemed destined to remain, until an opportunity arrived, in the form of the belated NDAA. The bill might serve as a vehicle for the caps to be lifted--and Senator Snowe filed an amendment to that end, a major win in itself as it brought the issue front and center. The issue, though, had not gone unaddressed during this legislative session. The text of the amendment came directly from Senator Snowe's Fairness in Women-Owned Small Business Contracting Act of 2012(S. 2172), which never made it out of committee. The amendment, a short piece of a lengthy bill, represented a long-time effort in this Congress to have these caps removed.

 

Unfortunatley, the amendment was not alone--nearly four hundred amendments were also submitted for consideration.

 

Thus began a furious effort to make the amendment's importance clear. The staffs of various Senators and advocates used the steady stream of phone calls, letters, and action alerts on the issue to make the voices of the women's business community heard. A tense weekend followed, with the fate of the amendment and an opportunity at positive change for women-owned businesses up in the air.

 

Then the call came, news that the amendment was not only pending but had been added to the bill--a bill with an incredible likelihood to become law.

 

And so it was, that on a surprisingly warm December afternoon, an effort more than ten years in the making was rewarded. In the 112th Congress, it has been hard--even frustrating--to get things done. But for one hard-working weekend, the Senate did a critical piece of legislating. When you really look at the whole sotry--the years of advocacy by WIPP and by women business owners, the gravity of the change needed, the unlikely delay of a normal bill until a lame-duck session, the sheer number of other possible policies added to the bill, and the timeline in which it all happened (a matter of days)--it really is quite an incredible victory.

 

A miracle even.

 

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