Women business owners are contributing to our economic recovery: Give them what they need
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Women-run businesses make up 40 percent of all businesses in the country and their revenues invigorate our local economies. Last year alone women-owned businesses generated $1 trillion in revenues.

But Covid-19 has exposed the deep inequities women business owners continue to face, despite the economic dynamism they contribute to our country. The CARES Act overlooked the needs of too many women entrepreneurs. With its focus on employees, while laudable, the Payroll Protection Program was of no help to many women-owned businesses because 90 percent have no employees. Far too many of those who did receive a PPP loan had to lay off employees because they had no customers during lockdowns, leaving them saddled with debt they may not be able to repay. And to top it all off, only 5 percent of businesses that received PPP loans were women.

Winter has come and the crisis is far from over.

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More than 2 million small businesses closed between February and May. A recent report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found women small business owners have been more heavily impacted by the pandemic than their male counterparts and are more pessimistic about future business growth overall. The number of women business owners who ranked their business’s overall health as “somewhat or very good” fell 13 points during the pandemic, compared to 5 points for male business owners.

Making matters worse, women entrepreneurs traditionally are less likely than men to get loans needed to sustain their business, get less capital when they do receive it, and are more likely to be caregivers to children and family members being impacted by the virus and school closures. Indeed, more than 10 million women have lost their jobs during Covid and women-owned businesses account for a full quarter of permanent pandemic-related closures.

A mountain of research is showing this economic downturn is affecting women more than men, and we can’t allow an entire generation of women entrepreneurs to be left behind. The economic inequality that is exponentially increasing will only become more intractable if we ignore women-owned businesses.

Our women business owners need a coordinated national recovery plan, and they need it now.

Small Business for America’s Future, a national coalition of small business owners, has set forth a recovery plan that makes sense for all small business owners, but especially for those run by women. The plan includes:

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  • Creating no-strings-attached recovery grants for small businesses with 20 or fewer employees, which comprise 89 percent of all small businesses in the country.
  • Forgiving all Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans of $150,000 or less
  • Greatly simplifying the PPP loan forgiveness process for small businesses that have loans of less than $2 million
  • Providing technical assistance funding for entrepreneur support organizations that connect underserved entrepreneurs with helpful people and tools

This last point is near and dear to my heart, as I run a network of Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) in California. Last year, 140,000 women entrepreneurs benefited from the 114 WBCs nationwide, where they received the tools to start and grow a business. Thanks to funding in the first stimulus package, WBCs have been able to triple their services to meet the overwhelming demand — for assistance with PPP loans and local grants, for coaching and technical support to digitize access to their products and services, and more. In California this has meant over 16,000 women were served between March and May, five times the numbers served in that period last year.

Thankfully, in my line of work, I hear many stories of women business owners coming up with some amazing pivot to keep their doors open just a little longer. Gabriella Moe, owner of Seasons Catering in Ventura, Calif., is a client of Women Economic Ventures WBC. In May she launched a new service, “Good 2 Go”, which is thriving. Starting with just a few clients, she segued to community meals and economical and contactless options for those unable to go to grocery stores. She also got two government contracts to deliver meals to health care workers and the elderly. The WEV financial advisors have been helpful with the iterations of the financial models and revenue streams, and the saving grace, as she calls it, has been the emotional support and coaching.

But the stimulus money that enabled us to help innovative women entrepreneurs like Gabriella has dried up. Women business owners can help revitalize our economy, but like everyone else right now, they need help to do it.

Congress, it’s time. Come together to pass another stimulus package now.

Nancy Swift is the Chair of the California Women’s Business Center Network.