Statement of the Hon. Jared Golden on The Role of Community Navigators in Reaching Underserved Businesses.
Washington, March 18, 2021
I’m proud to serve as Chair of this critical subcommittee. Underserved, agricultural, and rural small businesses have experienced some of the harshest outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic. The road to recovery they face is long, and we must ensure we advance policy that prioritizes them, so they are not left behind.
I hope to use this subcommittee’s first hearing during the 117th Congress to examine how the newly created Community Navigators Program can meet this need. Throughout the COVID crisis, large numbers of minority-owned and rural small businesses found themselves on the outside looking in when trying to access emergency relief. During the early days of the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advances, large financial institutions prioritized their larger customers at the expense of underserved small businesses.
This lack of access to relief added insult to injury for these small businesses bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s economic impact. When COVID struck, many small businesses in rural areas were still financially and structurally rebounding from the Great Recession. Before 2020, slow rural population growth and declining labor force participation led to a much slower employment growth rate in rural areas than elsewhere. Rural businesses also face a lack of access to capital and broadband connectivity, making pivoting to digital offerings and adapting to the COVID business environment much more difficult.
Minority-owned businesses have also been devastated by this crisis. Last year, the number of actively working, self-employed business owners fell dramatically across the Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American communities. The Minority-owned firms that have been fortunate enough to avoid closure face harsher financial conditions and have less cash-on-hand than white firms do.
These are the realities that led to the creation of the Community Navigator Pilot Program. Congress authorized the program as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. It will provide $100 million for grants to organizations to participate in the program and $75 million to support outreach and education.
The funding for education and outreach will go towards offering services in the 10 most common languages other than English, making improvements to the SBA’s website, implementing a media campaign to educate underserved communities, and establishing an SBA call center.
The Community Navigator program will supply grants to traditional business assistance organizations like Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Women’s Business Centers (WBCs), and SCORE Chapters. These institutions have deep ties to the communities they operate in and will engage trusted, culturally knowledgeable partners to conduct targeted outreach to specific sectors of the small business community.
This outreach can manifest in various ways, including hiring dedicated staff to focus on these individual communities or partnering with specialized community organizations and Chambers of Commerce via a “hub and spoke” model. The Community Navigator Program seeks to engage with underserved communities by providing technical assistance and enhanced outreach. For this program to meet its stated goal, Congress must closely monitor its rollout and work with the Administration to make the program operate as effectively as possible. That’s why today’s hearing is so important.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about the potential impact of this program on underserved small businesses and ways this subcommittee can ensure as many small businesses benefit as possible.