New Small Business Administration Secretary Is Third Latina Cabinet Member In U.S. History

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The Senate confirmed Maria Contreras-Sweet, the founder of a Los Angeles community bank, as head of the Small Business Administration on Thursday, making her the third Latina ever to hold a Cabinet position.

She also will be the second Hispanic in the Cabinet in President Obama’s second term. The other is Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Contreras-Sweet, who was born in Mexico and came to the United States at the age of 5, will be succeeding Karen Mills, who left the post last year.

“With the bipartisan confirmation of Maria Contreras-Sweet as the next Administrator of the Small Business Administration,” said Obama in a statement, “the American people will have a fierce champion who understands what it means to start a small business, and who has a proven track record of helping other small businesses succeed.”

The confirmation caps a lifelong dedication by Contreras-Sweet to helping others, especially Latinos, get the capital and other resources they need to build and grow their businesses.

In 2006, Contreras-Sweet helped found ProAmérica Bank, which was created with the intention of assisting Latino businesses. She also founded Hispanas Organized for Political Equality, or HOPE, which focuses on helping Latinas achieve personal, financial and political goals.

She’s held various government posts, including California Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing. She was the first Latina to serve as a cabinet secretary in California, overseeing 40,000 state employees and a $12 billion budget.

Various Latino leaders and groups, who have been critical of the Obama administration for not having more Latinos in senior positions, lauded the confirmation.

“Mrs. Contreras-Sweet will bring a wealth of experience to the Small Business Administration and will be a staunch advocate for the entrepreneurs that are the backbone of our economy,” said Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, a New Mexico Democrat who is first vice chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Diversity Task Force.

“Her first-hand experience creating and running a business gives her deep insight into the challenges and opportunities facing the small business community, making her well qualified to serve in this important role.”

Only two other Latinas have ever held Cabinet positions -- Katherine Ortega, who was Treasury Secretary under President Ronald Reagan, and Hilda Solis, who was Labor Secretary in Obama's first term.