Mr. President, I rise today as Ranking Member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship with my esteemed colleague and Chair of the Committee, Senator SNOWE, to offer legislation to fix a funding gap that exists for meritorious Women's Business Centers that are graduating from the first stage of the program and entering the sustainability portion.
I would first like to thank Senator SNOWE for working very closely with me on this issue. Her leadership and support has been invaluable. I would also like to thank our House counterparts on the Small Business Committee, Chairman MANZULLO and Ranking Member VELáZQUEZ, who have also been working diligently on the issue of sustainability grants as we take on the process of reauthorizing the majority of the SBA's programs. In addition, I want to thank all of the cosponsors of this legislation, all of which have shown resounding support for women entrepreneurs and recognize the positive impact all small businesses have on our national economy.
As I have said on more than one occasion, women business owners do not get the recognition they deserve for their contribution to our economy: Eighteen million Americans would be without jobs today if it weren't for these entrepreneurs who had the courage and the vision to strike out on their own. For 18 years, as a member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I have worked to increase the opportunities for these enterprising women in a variety of ways, leading to greater earning power, financial independence and asset accumulation. These are more than words. For these women, it means having a bank account, buying a home, sending their children to college, calling the shots.
And helping them at every step are the Women's Business Centers. In 2002 alone, these centers helped 85,000 women with the business counseling and assistance they likely could not find anywhere else. Cutting funding for any centers would be harmful to the centers, to the women they serve, to the States, and to the national economy.
The funding gap for Women's Business Centers in the sustainability portion of the program exists because the Small Business Administration has chosen to adopt a funding policy that short-changes existing, proven centers in order to open new, unproven ones. By incorrectly interpreting the funding formula set up in statute for the Women's Business Center program, the SBA intends to make way for new centers at the expense of those that are already established, operational and successful. This is both bad policy and contrary to congressional intent.
As the author of the Women's Business Centers Sustainability Act of 1999, I can tell that when the Women's Business Centers Sustainability Act of 1999 was signed into law, it was Congress's intent to protect the established and successful infrastructure of worthy, performing centers. The law was designed to allow all graduating Women's Business Centers that meet certain SBA standards to receive continued funding under sustainability grants, while still allowing for new centersbut not by penalizing those that have already demonstrated their effectiveness.
Currently there are 81 Women's Business Centers in 48 states. Forty-six of these are in the initial program, 29 are already in sustainability, and six more are graduating or have graduated from the initial program and are now applying for sustainability grants. Because the SBA is incorrectly interpreting the funding formula for sustainability grants in order to open new centers, and in order to accommodate funding for potentially six new sustainability centers, those from Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington State, the amount of funds reserved for Women's Business Centers in sustainability must be increased from 30.2 percent to 36 percent.
This legislation does just that. It directs the SBA to reserve 36 percent of the appropriated funds for the sustainability portion of Women's Business Centers programeven though the SBA already has the authority on its own to increase the reservethereby protecting the established Women's Business Centers from almost certain grant funding cuts and still providing enough funds to open six or more new centers across the country.
I want to again express my sincere and steadfast support for the growing community of women entrepreneurs across the Nation and for the invaluable programs through which the SBA provides women business owners with the tools they need to succeed. As a long-time advocate for women entrepreneurs and SBA's programs, my record in support of the SBA's women's programs and for women business owners speaks for itself. I have continually fought for increased funding for the women's programs at the SBA, for sustaining and expanding the women's business centers, and for giving women entrepreneurs their deserved representation within the Federal procurement process, to name a few. With respect to laws assisting women-owned businesses, I have been proud to either introduce the underlying legislation or strongly advocate to ensure their passage and adequate funding.
This bill is necessary to continue the good work of SBA's Women's Business Center network, and I urge all of my colleagues to support it.