Chairing Small Business Hearing, Golden Highlights Need for Office of Rural Affairs
WASHINGTON — In a hearing of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Underserved, Agricultural, and Rural Business Development chaired by Congressman Jared Golden (ME-02) today, the congressman focused on gaps in Small Business Administration (SBA) services for rural small businesses and the need for an active SBA Office of Rural Affairs.
“This is an Office that was created by Congress... to bring an emphasis in the work of SBA to rural businesses,” said Golden. “Many rural businesses aren’t even aware that [SBA programs] are there or how programs or lending opportunities or services might actually be available to them. And yet they’re paying tax dollars into these SBA programs. Shouldn’t we make sure some of that benefit returns back out to rural communities?”
In 1990, Congress enacted a law that directed the Small Business Administration to establish an Office of Rural Affairs. The Office’s statutory mission was to work to direct more SBA loans to rural small businesses and actively marketing SBA loans and services to rural communities. However, the Office has not been fully funded and staffed for decades.
In July 2019, Rep. Golden helped lead a bipartisan group of his fellow members of Congress to ask the SBA why the office hadn’t been fully established. In August 2019, the Trump Administration appointed a Director of the Office of Rural Affairs. However, that Director was reassigned away from the Office in March 2020.
During the hearing, the panel of small business owners, lenders, and advocates from across the country offered testimony on the challenges facing rural small businesses recovering from the pandemic and on the impact a fully functional Office of Rural Affairs would have on rural small businesses’ success.
“In order to be effective, the Office of Rural Affairs really, number one, needs to be fully staffed and have the capacity to address these issues. But it also has to have real authority to help expedite issues raised, and address concerns of small businesses that are coming into the Office,” said Nathan Ohle, CEO of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership. “We also think they should create some type of advisory council or entity that really engages folks on the ground...to make sure they have the voice of those communities and small business owners.”
A member of the House Small Business Committee since he came to Congress, Golden has prioritized the needs of rural small businesses. He has placed a high priority on hearing directly from Maine small businesses, pushed to revive SBA’s Office of Rural Affairs, passed legislation to expand the Small Business Development Center program, introduced legislation to assist small businesses with the ‘last mile’ of broadband access, and much more.
According to census data, Maine is one of the most rural states in the nation, and more than 90% of Maine businesses are small businesses.