March 31, 2004
Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions S. 2266
By Mr. DASCHLE (for Mr. KERRY (for himself, Ms. CANTWELL, Mr. HARKIN, Mr. BAYH, Mr. PRYOR, Ms. LANDRIEU, Mr. BINGAMAN, and Mr. LEVIN)):
S. 2266. A bill to amend the Small Business Act to provide adequate funding for Women's Business Centers; to the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
(At the request of Mr. Daschle, the following statement was ordered to be printed in the RECORD.)
Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today as ranking member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I offer the Women's Business Center Safeguard Act, legislation to fix a funding gap that exists for the most experienced meritorious women's business centers.
I would first like to express my sincere disappointment that the Republican majority refused to include the bipartisan women's business center compromise that was agreed to by Chair Snowe and the bipartisan leadership of the House Small Business Committee, and, in the best interest of women business owners across the country, I urge them to reconsider.
I also want to comment on the Bush administration's proposals to eliminate experienced, efficient, and effective women's business centers in favor of new, untested, and inexperienced centers. Moving forward with the administration's proposal and failing to correct this funding gap immediately would jeopardize women's business centers in 39 States and eliminate assistance for thousands of women in business. While, as my bill demonstrates, I support opening new centers to help women entrepreneurs who do not currently have access to this important assistance, this should only occur when the existing centers, whether in their initial or a later funding period, are fully funded. The administration's policy to sacrifice successful, experienced centers in the interest of opening new centers is unwarranted and unwise. Women entrepreneurs and their businesses are critically important to our economy and to U.S. job creation, and women's business centers help them succeed. I intend to continue to advocate on their behalf.
This legislation contains a small adjustment to the Women's Business Center program that updates an outdated funding formula, without added cost to the Treasury. The adjustment changes the portion of funding allowed for women's business centers in the sustainability part of the program to keep up with the increasing number of centers that will need funding this fiscal year. In short, this change directs the SBA to reserve 54 percent of the appropriated funds for the sustainability centers, instead of 30 percent, which will allow for full funding of the most experienced centers, while still allowing for new centers and protecting existing ones.
Currently there are 88 women's business centers. Of these, 35 are in the initial grant program and 53 will have graduated to the sustainability part of the program in this funding cycle. These sustainability centers make up more than half of the total women's business centers, but under the current funding formula are only allotted 30 percent of the funds. Without the change to 54 percent, all grants to sustainability centers could be cut in half-or worse, 23 experienced centers could lose funding completely. Cutting funding for these, our most efficient and successful centers, would not only be detrimental to the centers themselves, but also to the women they serve, to their local communities, to their States, and to the national economy.
As the author of the Women's Business Centers Sustainability Act of 1999, I can tell you that when the bill 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 performance standards to receive continued funding under sustainability grants. This approach allows for new centers to be established-but not by penalizing those that have already demonstrated their worth. It was our intention to continue helping the most productive and well-equipped women's business centers, knowing that demand for such services was rapidly growing.
Today, with women-owned businesses opening at one-and-a-half times the rate of all privately held firms, the demand and need for women's business centers is even greater. Until Congress makes permanent the Women's Business Center Sustainability Pilot Program, as intended in Senate-passed legislation, an extension of authority and increase in sustainability funds is vital-not only to the centers themselves, but to the women's business community and to the millions of workers employed by women-owned businesses around the country.
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 and its inclusion as part of any extension of SBA programs. I ask that the full text of this bill be printed in the RECORD.