Air Date

May 15, 2024

Featured Guest

Isabel Casillas Guzman
Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration


Carolyn Cawley
President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation


For more than 60 years, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has played a vital role in disaster relief for small business owners in the United States. Now, business owners can more easily access resources to rebuild, thanks to recent changes led by SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman. 

During the 13th Annual Building Resilience Conference, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation President Carolyn Cawley sat down for a fireside chat with Administrator Guzman to discuss the SBA’s work in communities impacted by disasters. 

SBA Disaster Relief Includes Small Businesses and Their Respective Communities  

When an area is affected by a disaster, the SBA offers support to small business owners. However, Guzman explained that the SBA’s support extends beyond businesses to include efforts that help individuals meet their material needs.  

“Small businesses are dependent on their local communities,” she said. “So healing the communities means we’re helping their employees and their customers recover quickly.” 

The SBA supports community members through loans that help people replace their damaged property or personal belongings—things people often need following disasters but may struggle to acquire due to a lack of resources. 

“Somebody might immediately, within hours, need to replace all their belongings, need to get a car, ” Guzman explained. “And so those immediate supports for renters and homeowners, [to] get that capital to get back to their lives, is what we’re there for.” 

“SBA has been engaged in disaster response filling the marketplace gaps,” she added. 

Putting Small Business Owners at the Center of Everything They Do  

Under Administrator Guzman’s leadership, the SBA operates with a customer-first mentality, and it embodies everything it does. 

"I grew up working in my father’s business and every single person who walked in that door was the most valuable thing to our family and they were the future to us.  So, we needed to treat our customers the same way and our partners—who are also our customers —and I think that’s allowed us to put ourselves in the shoes of our customers and understand how our products should evolve. And with the historic scaling of the SBA, it gave us an opportunity to invest in technology and shift our approach.” 

Guzman explained that the SBA has worked with its federal partners to make it easier for people to get the support they need following a natural disaster. For example, previously, small business owners seeking FEMA grants were required to first apply – and be denied – through the SBA.  

“That’s a very demoralizing position to be in,” Guzman emphasized. “We’ve now changed this.” 

This recent change, she explained, aims to help individuals access much-needed funds to rebuild their businesses, including those who may not have the capital to qualify for a loan through the SBA. 

A New SBA Approach Means More Flexibility for Small Businesses  

Community members and small business owners who rebuild following a natural disaster face a daunting number of bureaucratic hurdles to access the support they need. 

Thanks to recent internal restructuring efforts, the SBA has significantly reduced the time that applicants must wait before receiving support. In addition, the SBA offers options for small business owners to defer payments and interest accrual for the first 12 months of their loan.  

“[We’re] taking into account what someone is experiencing in a disaster,” Guzman said. “We’ve tried to overhaul the SBA to make it more user-friendly to help communities that have been devastated.”