Press Release

May 8, 2024
Cardin Highlights Racial Discrimination, Federal Programs for Minority Businesses in One of His Final Field Hearings
Senator Cardin has long prioritized policies to uplift entrepreneurs and small business owners from minority and underserved communities, including leading legislation to codify the Minority Business Development Agency

WASHINGTON – The Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship (SBC) held a field hearing, chaired by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin and joined by U.S. Chris Senator Van Hollen and Congressman Glenn Ivey (all D-Md.), highlighting the need for federal equity programs at Bowie State University, Maryland’s oldest historically black university. The hearing, entitled, “Promoting Opportunity: The Need for Targeted Federal Business Programs to Address Ongoing Racial Discrimination” underscored how programs like the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program and the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), help remedy the impacts of racial discrimination in the federal contracting space, as well as the consequences of recent legal attacks against 8(a) and MBDA.

The full hearing is available here.

“Racial discrimination has plagued our country since its inception. Unfortunately, we have not been able to truly reckon with our past in a way that completely breaks down the historical barriers of racial discrimination. Those struggles continue today and directly impacts minority business owners’ ability to operate and grow,” said Senator Cardin. “I commend everyone who had the bravery to tell their story; their testimony is what makes this hearing is so critical.”

“Minority business owners have long faced discriminatory barriers to accessing capital, securing contracts, and navigating regulatory roadblocks. Despite these persistent challenges, these entrepreneurs continue to support jobs and grow our economy,” said Senator Van Hollen. “This hearing underscored the urgent need to protect and improve the programs designed to overcome systemic barriers and empower underserved entrepreneurs to build and expand successful businesses.”

“Small, disadvantaged businesses still need a boost in their efforts to gain a foothold in the federal contracting space. With the attacks on government set asides and the very program established to put these companies on an equal footing as the well-established and larger corporations, in the courts, we must work to assure these entrepreneurs have a seat at the government procurement table.  Today’s field hearing is another step in the right direction, and I commend the Senators leadership in these efforts,” said Congressman Ivey, (MD-04). 

The Small Business Administration’s 8(a) and MBDA programs have been challenged in the courts by conservative activist groups. The witness testimony during the hearing highlighted that racial discrimination continues to exist today, the role government has had in that racial discrimination, the impact racial discrimination has on the small business owners’ ability to run a successful business, and how the MBDA, the 8(a) program, and minority business enterprise contracting requirements have helped break down those barriers to create a more level playing field.

“Today, I stand before you not just as a business owner but as a representative of Black-American small business community that has faced historical challenges and continues to encounter barriers in accessing opportunities that are fundamental to economic growth and prosperity. The recent challenges to programs like the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development program and the Minority Business Development Agency’s (MBDA) Business Center programs are deeply concerning, as they threaten to dismantle crucial avenues of support for socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs,” said Tonya Lawson, President and CEO, Lawson Consulting.

“We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history, where many hard-fought gains toward creating a more inclusive union, where everyone—regardless of their background—can pursue the American Dream, are under assault. The American Promise is founded on the idea that through hard work and dedication, anyone can climb the economic ladder of success. I would argue that this is not only an economic imperative for our country, but that opening up doors of opportunity through small business and entrepreneurship for communities of color is key to sustaining our American democracy,” said Gary Cunningham, Senior Advisor, Institute on Race Power & Political Economy at the New School.

“In the early 2000s when we began to bid as a general contractor, a prime in Baltimore City, several large white, male-owned companies came after us with everything they had. They tapped our phones. They went through our trash so frequently that we had to shred every document that left our office. They posted big, tough guys outside of our business and our temporary construction yards in an effort to intimidate us and our employees… [and] these bullies went to the extent of filming our employees and posting the video on social media with the title ‘Are These the Type of People We Want Working in America’,” said Natalia Luis, CEO, M Luis Construction and Products.

“Throughout these experiences, the role of the 8(a) program has been twofold: it has been a crucial lifeline, providing access to opportunities otherwise out of reach; and it has also been a constant reminder of the disparities that still exist in the business world. This dual reality drives my commitment to not only navigate these challenges but also to advocate for and support other minority and women entrepreneurs facing similar battles,” Ronnette Meyers, President and CEO, JLAN Solutions.

“When [my] client arrived at the meeting, he knew the minute he walked in, by the prime’s startled looks and subsequent questions, they were not expecting a person of color. Instead of conducting a normal low bid meeting, the questions shifted from the bid requirements to him as an individual. Statements were made such as ‘you’re very articulate,’ and questions were asked such as ‘how did you grow to have a company in double-digit millions of revenues?’ These are not statements and questions posed to Caucasian business owners I speak with,” said Gary Moore, Senior Business Consultant, MD MBDA Business Center.

“Almost universally, the results from disparity research continue to show that MBEs are substantially underutilized, and that the markets where these MBEs are doing business are under-realizing their opportunity to expand the entrepreneurial sector of their economies and to broaden economic participation among MBEs,” said Andres Bernal, J.D., Vice President, MGT Consulting Group.

The 8(a) Business Development Program, or the 8(a) program, provides participating small businesses with training, technical assistance, and contracting opportunities through a set-aside and/or a sole-source award. The program is limited to small businesses who are owned and controlled by one or more socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.

The MBDA is the lead federal agency dedicated to assisting minority business enterprises (MBEs) of any size in overcoming social and economic disadvantages that have limited their participation in the American economy. Through a local network of business development centers, grants, and other initiatives, the MBDA provides technical and business assistance, support, resources, and provides research on MBEs in the U.S.