INTRODUCTION OF THE WOMEN'S SMALL BUSINESS PROGRAMS IMPROVEMENT ACT OF 2003
Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, women business owners do not get the recognition they deserve for their contribution to our economy: 18 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.
As the ranking member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I rise today to say a few words about a bill that my colleague on the committee, our chair, Senator SNOWE, intends to introduce today, the Women's Small Business Programs Improvement Act.
First, however, I commend Senator SNOWE for taking this first step in crafting legislation that addresses many of the problems faced by women entrepreneurs in receiving assistance through the SBA's programs designed to assist them. I applaud Senator SNOWE for working diligently on these issues and for giving women business owners such attention in this SBA Reauthorization process.
Second, I express my sincere and steadfast support for the growing community of women entrepreneurs across the Nation and for the invaluable programs at the SBA that provide women with the tools they need to succeed in business. As a longtime 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 of the women's programs at the SBA, for sustaining and expanding the women's business centers, for adequately staffing and improving the National Women's Business Council, 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 advocate strongly to ensure their passage and adequate funding.
Today, it is my sincere regret that I cannot sponsor this bill. Senator SNOWE and I both support these programs, agree on many of the changes needed to strengthen these programs, and we have worked together on these issues for many years.
However, having only received a copy of the bill this morning, I have not had adequate time to review the proposal and to vet it with the women's business experts that represent the women and the businesses that will be affected by these proposed changes.
One example of a troublesome provision in the proposal is its treatment of existing women's business centers. When our committee was considering my 1999 legislation on this subject, the Women's Business Centers Sustainability Act, I fought to secure a nationwide infrastructure of Women's Business Centers that was in jeopardy because their matching grants from the SBA for the most experienced centers were going to expire. The sustainability legislation allowed 29 Women's Business Centers to continue to operate, serving together with new centers 85,000 women-owned business just in 2002. In this new bill, Senator SNOWE proposes to build on the success of that law by making the existing centers permanent, and I fully support this. If we had written the bill jointly, I would have done exactly the same.
While I praise Senator SNOWE for recognizing the success of centers operating with sustainability grants and the need to make them permanent, I understand her legislation will also establish a process that may create additional and unnecessary administration burdens and coststhus hindering the centers' ability to deliver critical services to eager entrepreneurs. In some cases, this may cause existing Women's business Centers to close their doors, eliminating access to women business owners in those locales to critical services. This and other key issues need to be carefully addressed, and I look forward to working with Senator SNOWE and other members of our Committee to do so.
I am not alone in my reservations. Just yesterday, both the Association of Women's Business Centers and the National Women's Business Council, while still endorsing many of the bill's concepts, expressed concerns about its details and their desire to work together to craft a bill that addresses those concerns and accomplishes our mutual goal for these important women's initiatives.
Once we have had an opportunity to thoroughly examine today's bill, I am confident that all the Democratic members of our Committee stand ready to do just that.