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SBA’s Guzman wants to help those left behind by PPP loans

October 19, 2021, 6:30 PM UTC
Isabella Casillas Guzman

Deadly pandemics, extreme supply-chain deficiencies, labor shortages, ever-changing COVID-related regulations, a new landscape full of complicated grants and loans to apply to: It’s an incredibly difficult time to run a small business. And Isabella Casillas Guzman, appointed by President Joe Biden to be the 27th administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, feels that precarity. 

Guzman also took on the role after the agency had found itself ill-prepared to deal with the sheer number of disaster and personal protection loans requested by businesses. A slow rollout of the aid left a tarnished reputation that Guzman is now trying to repair by streamlining programs. 

“SBA has had to streamline and use technology to reach this new scale, and we’re trying to leverage that technology to start over again,” she said at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit last week. “We have over a million applications coming in through this simplified portal, which is easy to use and take the chance to do for those last 250,000 vendors.”

She’s also attempting to even the field around who gets these loans, she said. Resource-heavy small businesses with grant writers are always going to have an advantage in gaining access to these programs, but Guzman—the first Latin American woman to fill the position—says that equity is incredibly important to her. She’s implementing a boots-on-the-ground system to connect with businesses in underserved areas directly and “authentically.” This work, she said, is “critical to correcting barriers and entrenched systems of racism.”

The community navigator program is critical in “trying to make sure that other women and people of color, as well as rural and low-income communities, can get the resources that they need to survive. Everybody knows that your contacts, your networks, are so critical,” she said. 

She’s also focusing on direct lending programs to fill in the gaps that the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) left behind. Small dollar loans of up to $150,000 and small programs to focus on working capital are part of that plan going forward, said Guzman. 

The focus comes as part of the larger Biden administration initiative to focus on equity and underserved communities, something Guzman says she sees reflected in his own cabinet makeup. “We’re betting on the fact that we’re representative of constituents across the country and better communicate their needs and meet them where they are with whatever we’re offering. For me it’s access to capital, access to marketplaces, and access to networks,” she said. 

President Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better budget proposal, currently being hammered out on the Hill, would allocate about $25 billion in new spending to the SBA, largely for such programs, greatly and unprecedentedly expanding the power of the agency.

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