The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved an amendment to make the Minority Development Business Agency (MBDA) permanent, nearly culminating a decades-long effort to solidify the agency's position. 

A bipartisan cohort of senators, including Small Business and Entrepreneurship committee chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Commerce committee ranking member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), added the measure to the infrastructure bill, which the legislation's backers hope will pass the chamber in the next several days.

The MBDA helps minority entrepreneurs get access to capital, government contracts, and markets through its business centers throughout the country. The amendment would funnel $110 million annually to the agency until FY2025, more than double its FY2021 level. (Congress could set a new funding level after that.) The measure also would widen the MBDA's footprint, creating regional offices and rural business centers to be run through Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has shined a bright light on the unique burdens that minority entrepreneurs face, so I am proud that the Senate has moved to provide the MBDA with the stability, leadership, and resources it needs to invest in minority businesses," Cardin said in a statement Thursday.

President Richard Nixon created the MBDA through an executive order in 1969. Members of Congress have introduced bills to codify the agency going all the way back to 1980, according to the MBDA. None has passed, requiring Congress to appropriate money for each fiscal year to keep it operating. 

Ron Busby Sr., president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit U.S. Black Chambers, said that since his organization's inception, it has been advocating for permanent funding of the MBDA: "For the past 12 years, we have been having this conversation and been very, very diligent." 

Now the moment could finally be here. Busby says he is "elated" Republicans and Democrats came together to support minority-owned businesses, which were disproportionally affected by the pandemic--and which had already faced myriad structural barriers.