Monday, April 02, 2007

Before Spring Recess, U.S. Senate Committee Takes Bold, Bipartisan Steps on Behalf of Small Businesses

Before adjourning last Friday for a one-week spring vacation, the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship had taken bold, bipartisan steps to help small-business owners grow and, in some cases, recover their enterprises.

Kerry, Snowe Add Nearly $100 Million to SBA Budget
On March 23, Senators John Kerry [D-Mass.] and Olympia J. Snowe [R-Maine] -- the committee's chairman and ranking member, respectively -- secured $97 million above President Bush’s FY 2008 budget request for the Small Business Administration [SBA].

The Kerry-Snowe amendment to the Congressional Budget Resolution, cosponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman [I-D-Conn.], Mike Enzi [R-Wyo.], Maria Cantwell [D-Wash.], and Mark Pryor [D-Ark.], unanimously passed the Senate. Representing a 21% increase over the Administration’s proposal of $464 million, the amendment increases funding for:
* Veterans Programs to $2 million [from $743,000 in President Bush’s budget request];
* 7[j] Technical Assistance Program to $3 million [from $1.5 million];
* Small Business Development Centers to $110 million [from $87 million];
* SCORE Program to $7 million [from $4.95 million];
* Women’s Business Centers to $16.5 million [from $11.9 million];
* Native American Outreach to $2 million [from $772,000];
* U.S. Export Assistance Centers to $7 million [from $5.2 million];
* Microloan Technical Assistance to $20 million [the President’s budget proposal sought to eliminate this program];
* Microloans to $3.2 million [from zero];
* Program for the Investment in Microentrepreneurs to $5 million [the President’s budget proposal sought to eliminate this program];
* Hiring 100 Procurement Center Representatives [oversee federal contracting] to $10 million [from $900,000];
* New Markets Venture Capital to $5 million [from zero];
* New Markets Technical Assistance to $5 million [from zero];
* HUBZones to $10 million [from $2 million]; and
* Small Business Innovation Research [SBIR] outreach programs to $6 million [from zero]

“Small-business programs have been on a starvation diet for too many years and we’re trying to reverse that,” said Kerry. “I am pleased to have worked across the aisle with Sen. Snowe to restore funding to small-business programs that are critical to helping America’s entrepreneurs succeed. Our amendment demonstrates our commitment to expanding business opportunities in all sectors of our society -- especially for minorities, women and veterans.”

“In Maine and across this country, small businesses are the backbone of our economy," Snowe noted. "Working together with my good friend Sen. Kerry, we have shaped a bipartisan measure that specifically strengthens the ability of minority, women, and veteran-owned small businesses to compete, succeed and create jobs for our families and future generations of Americans."

Bill to Overhaul Disaster Loan Program Clears Committee
In 2005, in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the government's Disaster Loan Program was mismanaged and ineffective. Although some improvements have been made to the program over the last six months, the Administration requires additional tools to be able to swiftly and effectively respond in the aftermath of a disaster.

Last Thursday, the comprehensive legislation -- sponsored by Senators Kerry, Snowe, Mary Landrieu [D-La.], and David Vitter [R-La.] -- that passed Kerry's committee will improve the government’s loan program and ensure disaster victims receive timely assistance.

“Hurricanes Katrina and Rita impacted 125,000 small and medium-sized businesses Gulfwide, and in Louisiana alone, more than 18,000 businesses were totally destroyed," said Landrieu. "The federal government has an important role in helping businesses get back on their feet. This bill provides significant reforms to ensure that SBA is better prepared to deal with future disasters, be they natural or manmade."

Her Louisiana colleague agreed. “Small businesses are the backbone of Louisiana’s economy, and this legislation provides critical improvements in the SBA’s ability to provide timely assistance,” Vitter noted. “Specifically, I believe the Private Disaster Loan program, which allows banks to make SBA-guaranteed loans directly to victims, is needed to streamline the recovery process and quickly get our small businesses back on their feet.”

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, over 125,000 businesses were disrupted by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. In Louisiana alone, more than 81,000 small businesses were damaged or economically impacted, with 18,000 businesses catastrophically destroyed by the storms.

For example, in St. Bernard Parish, one of the Louisiana parishes hardest-hit by Hurricane Katrina, only 370 businesses have reopened – far below the total of 1,400 businesses in operation there before Katrina. In addition, according to state statistics, only 38% of the pre-Katrina population has returned to the parish.

The House Small Business Committee passed legislation earlier last month to improve the Disaster Loan Program. Now, both bills are headed to consideration by the full Senate and House.

Kerry-Hagel Amendment Improves Reservist Loan Program in Supplemental Bill
The U.S. Senate unanimously adopted an amendment authored by Kerry and Sen. Chuck Hagel [R-Neb.] that will improve a loan program for reservists who face economic hardship after a deployment. Included in the emergency supplemental appropriations bill, which cleared the Senate last Thursday, the measure gives reservists up to one year to apply for a Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan after they return from active duty and allows reservists to apply for low-interest loans before they are deployed.

"We shouldn’t just say thank-you to the men and women who fought to protect this country; we should show them we’re grateful and help them get back on their feet,” said Kerry. “This provision is a key step towards addressing the financial sacrifice being made by many reservists and their families, and the economic struggle they face when they return home.”

"The men and women of our armed forces perform the ultimate job of protecting this country," said Hagel. "It is our obligation to provide these men and women with ample opportunities when seeking civilian employment. This provision would improve opportunities for reservists to establish and maintain successful small businesses."

The Kerry-Hagel amendment:
* Extends from 90 days to one year from the date of discharge the deadline for a reservist-dependent small business to apply for a loan;
* Directs the SBA to create a pre-consideration process for reservist-dependent small businesses, so that they can receive loans immediately upon the reservist being called to active duty;
* Establishes a coordinated, proactive marketing plan to be conducted by the SBA, the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense to more effectively get information in the hands of reservists and their families; and
* Requires the SBA to report back to the Small Business Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the status of this program, as well as additional steps that may be taken to improve it.

Since 2002, fewer than 300 loans have been made through this program to reservist-dependent businesses, despite increasing numbers of reservists being deployed. The Kerry-Hagel amendment is also a provision in legislation they introduced last Wednesday to expand veteran and reservist entrepreneurship.

The Military Reservist and Veteran Small Business Reauthorization Act [S. 1005] would expand loan programs for veterans and reservists, and create a grant program for reservist-dependent firms that are unable to take on additional debt contingent upon the business providing a viable business plan. For more information on S. 1005, please visit:\u003d271489.

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