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The Small Business Administration is about to get a new leader, as Covid recovery heats up

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Isabel Guzman, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) nominee for U.S. President Joe Biden, is sworn in during a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021.

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The Senate plans to confirm Isabel Guzman to head the Small Business Administration on Tuesday, putting her in charge of helping to lead Main Street beyond the damage wrought by Covid-19.

Guzman now serves as director of California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate. She has overseen small business relief for the country’s largest state throughout the pandemic.

Now, she is set to take the effort nationwide as SBA administrator at a time when small businesses have struggled to keep their doors open. Guzman will oversee the rollout of the Paycheck Protection Program and other aid initiatives, which have saved companies but have been saddled with inefficiency and waste.

“I have every confidence that under Ms. Guzman’s leadership, the SBA will help small business owners hold on to their dreams until the economy comes roaring back,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said earlier Tuesday.

Since the passage of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act last March, the agency has managed the PPP, one of the largest chunks of relief money Congress has approved. Since its inception, the program has given about $687 billion in forgivable loans, according to SBA data through March 7. About $165 billion in loans has gone out this year.

The current window to apply for the aid expires at the end of the month. Bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate have proposed a plan to extend the program for two months and give the SBA another 30 days after that to go through applications.

Despite the unprecedented relief money, small businesses have struggled to stay afloat under economic restrictions designed to slow the spread of the virus. A CNBC/SurveyMonkey small business poll taken in late January found only 55% of owners believe their companies can continue operating for more than a year under current conditions.

In her Senate confirmation hearing last month, Guzman said she is “deeply committed to helping to support our nation’s small businesses and entrepreneurs.”

“They are facing an unprecedented crisis and need our support to survive,” she said.

Guzman added that she would work to improve equity in distributing small business aid — a priority for the Biden administration. Critics of the initial phase of PPP loans last year said the government did not do enough to get money to the smallest businesses and companies owned by women and people of color.

Guzman become director of California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate in 2019. She served as deputy chief of staff at the SBA during President Barack Obama’s second term.

The Senate has confirmed 17 of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees, most recently Deb Haaland as Interior secretary.

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