Senator Ben Cardin Moderates Field Hearing on Entrepreneurs

Field hearing for the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Monday, May 6, 2024. The hearing was hosted by Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Glenn Ivey.

Written By Bowie State University Newsroom

Entrepreneurs had the opportunity to speak directly with Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen about the impact of racial discrimination and attacks on the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 8(a) program and the Minority Business Development Agency on their businesses during the hearing of the U.S. Senate  Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Field Hearing at Bowie State on Monday. 

The hearing focused on the need for targeted federal business programs to address ongoing racial discrimination faced by many small businesses.  

“Racial discrimination has plagued our nation since its inception,” said Cardin. “Unfortunately, we have not been able to truly reckon with our past in a way that breaks down the historical barriers racial discrimination has created.” 

Last summer a federal court decision in the case of Ultima Services Corporation v. the U.S. Department of Agriculture resulted in an injunction against the SBA prohibiting the agency from only considering social disadvantage only based on being part of the Black, Hispanic, Asian Pacific and Native American races in the administration of its 8(a) Business Development Program. 

In the months since the injunction, the SBA has reviewed or recertified thousands of 8(a) participants through a process in line with the court’s order and reopened the 8(a) application to new participants. 

Witnesses who testified at the hearing expressed their opinions about the SBA’s 8(a) program and the benefits and challenges that accompany participating in the initiative. 

“Even though a firm is 8(a) certified, it does not guarantee winning contracts from federal agencies said Ronnette R. Meyers, CEO of JLAN Solutions and a witness at the hearing. “Our firm has been 8(a) certified for five years and we have found that cultivating relationships with federal agencies is what really helps us win business. The 8(a) program does a great job of helping small firms with business development, training, leadership programs and access to capital.” 

In 2022, the federal government awarded contracts worth over $690.8 billion to over 111,000 firms. Small, disadvantaged businesses, including those in the 8(a) program, received $69.9 billion or approximately 11%. 

“We have come a long way but there is much more work to do,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen. “This is not the time to dismantle the SBA 8(a) program or the Minority Business Development Agency. Both programs are under-utilized.” 

Another witness Tonya Lawson, CEO and President of Black Heron.AI, and has been in business for 20 years without 8(a) certification but will soon be applying to the program. 

“I believe the SBA’s 8(a) program helps to level the playing field,” said Lawson. The program has its challenges, but I do believe it can open doors to access, give me time to build my business and put the proper systems in place.” 

“We need to do what is best for the nation,” said Cardin. The SBA 8(a) program and Minority Business Development Agency bring empowerment to individual business owners and help strengthen underserved communities across America. That’s what it’s all about.”