HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - Today, Lieutenant Governor Austin Davis and state officials highlighted $20 million for the historically disadvantaged business program in this year’s budget. 

There are over one million small business owners in Pennsylvania who employ roughly 2.6 million people. Many of those include minority, women and veteran-owned businesses. 

“I always thought I would just wake up and work my nine-to-five and retire,” said Jonette “Star” Dent, who never planned on being a small business owner, at least until she discovered a passion for candle making.  

Dent's business, Candle Kreationz in Steelton, Pa., is just a few minutes away from the state Capitol. It was also the site for today’s visit by members of the Shapiro administration to discuss funding for businesses like Dent’s. 

“Being a small business owner, I needed the funds and stuff to build the business and it was just an idea that hopefully would actually make my dream come true,” said Dent. 

Receiving the funding, or access to capital, necessary to start and run a small business can be difficult, especially for historically disadvantaged businesses. 

"Despite us having hundreds of thousands of these businesses in our commonwealth, their owners aren't really, in a lot of cases, on an even playing field,” said Rick Siger, Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). 

“Small businesses, like beauty salons and barber shops, create community and commerce – not just jobs, but ladders of opportunity,” said Lieutenant Governor Austin Davis. “Unfortunately, small businesses that are owned by Black and brown folks or women sometimes struggle with access to capital. Minority owned businesses are three-times more likely to be denied a loan and pay a higher interest rate,” Davis added.  

Today, Davis and Siger experienced the candle making process first-hand and discussed the importance of supporting women, minority and veteran-owned businesses. 

“It's good for our economy, it reduces disparities, it levels the playing field. And more importantly, it's the right thing to do,” said Siger. 

This year’s budget allocates $20 million for the Historically Disadvantaged Business Program, which will provide grants and loans to qualifying businesses. 

“Those funds will ensure eligible businesses have the access to capital so that they can expand and sustain their businesses operations here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Davis. 

Siger says a similar program, launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, has laid the groundwork and will help disburse the funding to businesses quickly and accountably. Requirements, guidelines and other information are in the works, but officials expect them to be available in the near future.