America’s 30 million small businesses are the heart of our economy. They make up more than 99 percent of our nation’s firms and employ nearly half of our private workforce. As the top Democrat on the Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee, I believe we must boost access to capital, expand opportunities for entrepreneurs, improve support structures for start-ups, and broaden access to global markets for small businesses in Maryland and across the country. I am especially committed to supporting small businesses in economically distressed areas and those owned by minorities, women, and veterans. Diverse small business ownership is key to our economic future.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) defines a small business by number of employees and/or business revenue, with separate standards for each industry. In the past, small business owners who experienced several years of rapid, unexpected growth were often disqualified for SBA programs before they could compete with larger businesses. In response, I led the passage of legislation to ensure that small business size standards are calculated using average annual receipts from the previous five, rather than three, years. I also support creating contracting categories that would carve out contracting opportunities for recently-graduated and medium-sized businesses.
To jumpstart economic development, I’m working across the aisle to preserve incentives in our tax code that help small businesses in Maryland and nationwide. I continue to advocate for permanence of the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), which spurs economic development in distressed rural communities and urban neighborhoods. Direct NMTC investments have generated more than 34,000 thousand jobs and leveraged more than $3 billion in capital in Maryland. I’m also fighting to maintain the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which provides a financial incentive for employers who hire and retain individuals from groups that face difficulties in finding jobs, including veterans and recipients of public assistance. This credit enables small businesses to embrace non-traditional job candidates who they might not otherwise take a chance on.
I am committed to supporting the SBA’s investment in entrepreneurial development programs, particularly those that help underserved business owners. In 2019, I introduced the NEW START Act, which funds entrepreneurial development programs to empower returning citizens to start businesses. I also support the Veteran Institute for Procurement (VIP) program in Montgomery County, Maryland, which receives SBA and private sector support to teach service-disabled and veteran small business owners how to compete for federal contracting opportunities. The VIP program, delivered at no cost to its participants, has trained more than 390 service-disabled and veteran-owned Maryland small businesses. A total of 1,264 participants have graduated from the program and graduates report increased revenue by an average of 64% within the first year of graduation.
SBA’s HUBZone program encourages economic development in historically underutilized business zones, referred to as HUBZones, by providing contracting assistance to small businesses located in these communities. To better serve small business owners and employees, I support common sense changes to the program such as ensuring faster processing of applications, allowing the expansion of HUBZones into contiguous business districts and easing standards for companies that previously qualified for the program.
In 2018, the Senate Small Business Committee held a field hearing in Maryland to examine the ability of minority entrepreneurs to access capital. I have been especially focused on addressing the multiple challenges that small, minority-owned businesses face in pursuing federal government contracts, accessing credit, and starting businesses. These challenges include a lack of performance and/or credit history, lower levels of access to startup funding, and lack of knowledge of the federal contracting process. I support allowing the use of alternative data, such as rent and utility payments, to establish credit histories, as well as requiring greater transparency from the SBA about loan applicants and recipients.
Prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the number one issue small businesses around Maryland asked me about was the rising cost of health care. Through the small business exchanges, many small businesses who previously could not afford health coverage for their employees have found affordable benefits. I remain committed to preventing the reckless attempts to repeal the ACA without a replacement, which would cost our small business owners and their employees. Enacting legislation which is based on the opinions and concerns of small businesses and entrepreneurs in Maryland and around the country is among my highest priorities in the United States Senate.
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