116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
We know all too well that over the past 18 months small businesses across the nation have faced extraordinary challenges as a result of COVID-19. Just ask any small business owner on Main Streets throughout Iowa, where hardworking folks have struggled to keep their employees on the payroll and grappled with the reality of having their doors shuttered.
Small businesses make up over 99 percent of all businesses in Iowa. They are truly the backbone of our economy. As a senior member of the Senate Small Business Committee, I was proud to help champion the Paycheck Protection Program that’s been a critical lifeline for more than 61,000 small businesses in Iowa and thousands more across America.
There are bright spots as our economy continues down the long path to recovery, but, for some, the recovery has not been as swift. Women-owned small businesses were hit especially hard by the economic impacts of the pandemic.
One way small businesses can be supported is through contracts from the federal government. For decades, our nation’s local businesses have provided critical goods and services to the federal government, helped build stronger supply chains, created high-paying jobs, and increased access to innovation in the private sector.
Though the federal government has continued to meet its initial goal of awarding 23 percent of procurement dollars to small businesses each year, it has fallen short of meeting other targets in recent years.
The Bipartisan Policy Center, in partnership with the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Voices initiative, recently uncovered data indicating the federal government has failed to meet its legal obligation to support women-owned small businesses and businesses in historically underutilized business (HUB) zones. In fact, the goal of awarding 5 percent of all federal contracts to women-owned small businesses, as set by the Small Business Administration (SBA), has only been met twice since the goal was established in 1994. That means women are receiving fewer federal dollars, contracts, and business opportunities when compared to their male peers.
In fiscal year 2019, federal contract obligations reached $586 billion, the highest it has ever been, but the gender gap for contracts at the federal level continues to expand. It’s clear that more needs to be done to empower our women small business owners.
In the Senate, I helped lead a bipartisan effort that directs the SBA to conduct a study on women-owned small business’ participation in federal contracts. The bipartisan bill is an important step towards ensuring women-owned small businesses have better access to federal contracting opportunities.
Just recently, while out on my 99 County Tour across Iowa, I visited M's Machine & Manufacturing Company in Clayton County. Their owner Candace Drahn, an alumna of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Iowa cohort, shared with me some of the challenges her company is facing due to the pandemic. Candace’s experience is similar to the stories that so many other Iowa small business owners – particularly women – have expressed to me as they continue working to recover from these challenging times.
Women are playing a vital role in our nation’s economic recovery. Improving access to contracting opportunities for all women-owned small businesses will not only empower women but also improve our economy all the more. In the Senate and on the Small Business Committee, I will continue working to empower women in the workforce.
Joni Ernst represents Iowa in the United States Senate.