Thursday, June 14, 2007

Committee Seeks to Strengthen Key Initiatives for Sustained Economic Development

In many underserved neighborhoods, small businesses are an important engine of growth and revitalization, bringing much needed jobs and commerce. Oftentimes, the individuals wishing to start these businesses have difficulty securing adequate finances, leaving their aspirations stalled in the planning phase.

Today, the House Committee on Small Business examined two key initiatives that support economic revitalization in some of these disadvantaged communities: 1] the Microloan Program, and 2] the Program for Investment in Micro-Enterprise [PRIME] -- both of which fall under the purview of the Small Business Administration [SBA].

"There are many budding entrepreneurs who strive to open their own business, but due to a lack of experience or limited credit history, cannot secure capital," said Nydia M. Velázquez, committee chairwoman. "The microloan and PRIME programs have been instrumental in turning their dreams into reality."

Since its inception in 1994, the microloan program has provided credit to more than 700,000 small firms -- many headed by women, minorities and others who are facing challenges getting their ventures off the ground. These businesses have helped bring economic growth to areas where it is desperately needed, creating or retaining about 10,000 jobs in 2006, according to the SBA.

With a default rate of less than two percent, these investments have not only increased prosperity, but have done so while maintaining a better repayment record than traditional loans made by commercial lenders.

"These programs have been vital in moving people not just from welfare to work, but from welfare to business ownership -- an amazing accomplishment," Chairwoman Velázquez noted.

Despite this record of success, the Bush administration has proposed to eliminate the microloan program each year for the past four years. In its latest budget request, it has recommended increasing the cost of the loans for the borrowers, and to completely eliminate PRIME. At the hearing, members rejected these proposals and outlined ways to strengthen the current programs, making capital more affordable for borrowers.

Currently, microloan recipients cannot use their repayment history to improve their credit score. Building a strong credit history is a challenge for many business owners. By changing the current system, borrowers could improve their credit records, thus increasing the stability of their business and their ability to obtain future funding.

The committee also proposed reducing costs and providing greater flexibility, allowing lenders to better meet the needs of their clients. In striving for these goals, members seek to make loans more accessible for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

"For many aspiring business owners, a microloan is their only option, and we simply cannot allow these entrepreneurs to be left behind," Chairwoman Velázquez said. "The answer is simple: these programs must be permitted to continue, and any proposal to diminish them must be firmly rejected."

GoodBiz113's take: SBA's microloan and PRIME programs need to be sustained in order to help ensure that future businesses can thrive in underserved areas. Further, we'd like to see the changes proposed by Velázquez's committee embraced by her colleagues and the White House, and implemented ASAP.

Sources: PBS [file photo], U.S. House Small Business Committee

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