The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Isabel Guzman as the next administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the agency tasked with overseeing increasingly vital lending and aid programs including the Paycheck Protection Program.

The appointment and confirmation of Guzman, who had previously served as deputy chief of staff at the SBA during the Obama administration, should help provide needed leadership at the SBA, which has been under intense pressure during the pandemic. The previous administrator under former President Donald Trump, Jovita Carranza, officially left office in January.

Since April 2020, the SBA has dispensed $907.3 billion in aid to struggling small businesses. That's on top of the lending it helps facilitate under its traditional lending offerings including the 7(a) and 504 programs. For comparison's sake, after the 2008 financial crisis--also a period that required the SBA to offer emergency aid to the business community--the SBA supported a then-record $30.5 billion in loans in 2011. 

While the Covid-19 caseload may have slowed in intensity in recent days, the pandemic is still very much in effect.

"There's still tremendous uncertainty for the average restaurant operator; most states are still operating with very stark capacity limits," says Sean Kennedy, the National Restaurant Association's executive vice president for public affairs. He notes that 110,000 restaurants have shut their doors since the start of the pandemic. "It's very difficult for a restaurant to cover their costs and keep their doors open."

Specifically, Guzman will be tasked with overseeing the PPP, the forgivable loan program that's supported $687 billion in loans to 7.6 million small businesses--that is, if it doesn't sunset on March 31. While the latest stimulus package did not extend the program, the PPP is expected to be extended by way of new standalone legislation, which is now wending its way through the House.

She'll also oversee two major grant programs that have yet to come online: the $16.25 billion Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program and the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The former was authorized under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which Donald Trump signed into law on December 27, and the latter was approved on March 11, with the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act.

In a statement, Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, noted the tough road ahead for Guzman but offered an optimistic appraisal of her abilities. "SBA must continue to be a lifeline for small businesses in the months ahead, and I am confident that Isabel Guzman is the best person to lead the agency out of the pandemic and through the economic recovery to follow. Mrs. Guzman's commitment to equity and her deep knowledge of the needs of small businesses will make her a strong advocate for all small businesses in the Biden administration."

Prior to joining the SBA, Guzman founded two businesses, including GovContractPros, a government contractor-consulting firm in Chevy Chase, Maryland, which boasts on LinkedIn of helping "government contractors access and navigate the $500 billion federal marketplace with proven expertise." Earlier in her career, she had worked in strategic initiatives at ProAmerica Bank, a commercial bank in Los Angeles for small and midsize companies seeking growth capital. Former SBA administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet is the founder of ProAmerica Bank.

According to Guzman's LinkedIn profile, she earned a bachelor's degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Most recently she served as the director of California's Office of the Small Business Advocate.