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Senate Approves Bill to Rescue Women's Business Centers from Funding Shortfall

The United States Senate Thursday gave unanimous approval to legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) to prevent the disruption in the operations of the Women###s Business Centers (WBCs).

"Given the leading role women play in the growth of small business, it is vitally important that Congress protect the eligible Women###s Business Centers from funding cuts, even if they are temporary," said Snowe, who chairs the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. "This bill offers the best path available to sustain the few centers approaching the end of their grant cycles, without creating undue hardship for the many."

Snowe###s bill, the "Women###s Business Centers Preservation Act of 2003" (S. 1247), approved unanimously by the Senate late Thursday, is designed to establish a temporary source of funding to sustain five WBCs now reaching the end of their five-year grant cycles and to preserve funding for WBCs currently operating with sustainability grants. The five centers, located in Iowa, Illinois, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington, will not be able to operate through the end of the current fiscal year without additional funding. Moreover, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has not confirmed that funds will be made available to sustain those centers beyond June 2003. The WBC Program, which includes 81 WBCs operating with matching funds administered by the SBA, currently is funded at $12 million.

"I am disappointed that the SBA is apparently unwilling to address this funding shortfall in a way that will not penalize all WBCs," Snowe said. "In this sluggish economy, we can ill afford to reduce our commitment to help women business owners and entrepreneurs succeed. Preserving these valuable centers to nourish growth of women-owned business is absolutely essential."

Snowe###s bill, which was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 14 Senators, would enable the SBA to reprogram currently-appropriated funds and tap into a pool of funding normally reserved for initial grants to newly-established WBCs. By reducing the funding for initial grants by approximately 6 percent, and reprogramming those funds into sustainability grants, existing centers would be stabilized through fiscal year 2003.

Snowe offered a permanent correction for the WBCs in her "Women###s Small Business Programs Improvement Act of 2003" (S. 1154), which was introduced on May 23, 2003. That bill would provide a competitive grants process for all WBCs without the arbitrary funding constraints currently facing WBCs seeking renewal grants. The "Women###s Small Business Programs Improvement Act" is expected to be taken up as part of a separate reauthorization bill to renew the full range of SBA programs later this year.

Established in 1988, the Women###s Business Center Program provides long-term training and counseling to encourage small business ownership through nonprofit organizations in almost every state and territory.