The Developing the Next Generation of Small Businesses Act of 2016, which was recently approved by the House Committee on Small Business, is a huge victory for Women’s Business Centers (WBCs), a program that has not been updated in nearly a decade, and which is responsible for counseling and training women entrepreneurs. It will 1) increase funding levels for the program to $21.75 million, an increase from the current authorization level of $14.5 million; 2) increase the maximum grant awards for individual centers from $150,000 to $185,000 per year (and continue to require that centers match their grant awards with private dollars); and 3) provide financial flexibility for centers including a hardship waiver for centers that are unable to meet their matching funds goal and scales back auditing and reporting requirements for the non-federal matching funds that exceed the required level. As a champion of women in business, the National Women’s Business Council proudly supports legislative efforts, like this one, to increase, improve, and empower the resources and programming for women in business.

“Women continue to face major barriers in terms of early and consistent entrepreneurial support,” said Carla Harris, the Presidentially-appointed chair of the NWBC. “When passed, this bill will open the doors to more counseling, training, and education, which we know is so important to women and the success of their business ventures.”

Last fall, Senator and Member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship Maria Cantwell (D-WA) proposed the Women’s Small Business Ownership Act of 2015. Earlier this year, Representative and Ranking Chairman of the House Committee on Small Business Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) first introduced the Developing the Next Generation of Small Businesses Act of 2016. Last week, an amendment was introduced by Representative and Chairman of the House Committee on Small Business Steve Chabot (R-OH) that specifically addressed the Women’s Business Centers, a program that encompasses more than 100 centers across the country.

Key components of the bill include:

WBC Operations: This bill would expand the funding and operations of how each center is run. It includes a $35,000 increase per year for maximum grant awards and a provision for hardship waivers. For the non-federal matching funds that exceed the required level, this bill also decreases the auditing and reporting requirements. With the financial flexibility, the Centers would be able to focus more of their resources into programming for small business owners and entrepreneurs given this bill includes additional funding of up to $65,000 for new projects for existing WBC’s.

Small Business Counseling: This legislation would increase resources for counseling and training services to help reach more women entrepreneurs. By increasing the grants available to the centers that provide training and counseling, the WBCs can better assist the clients and help women access.

Resource & Program Coordination: This bill addresses the responsibilities of the Assistant Administrator of the Office of Women’s Business Ownership at the U.S. Small Business             Administration. This includes serving as the vice chairperson of the Interagency Committee on Women’s Business Enterprises and as the liaison for the National Women’s Business Council.

“Numbers speak volumes, and the data confirms that women small business owners are the fastest growing segment of the economy,” said Amanda Brown, Executive Director of NWBC, “When we increase the opportunity for women entrepreneurs to launch and grow their businesses, there’s no doubt that we will see a measurable return on investment for our country.”

Both the Senate and House bills have passed their respective committees. The Council is fully committed to the reauthorization and funding of the Women’s Business Center program – and is pleased to see this bill making its way through the congressional process.