WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship ranking member Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, is urging Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills to reconsider what the committee calls an incorrect interpretation of the State Trade and Export Promotion grant program.
The STEP program would provide grant funding to assist small businesses seeking to export, but according to SBA's interpretation, at least 10 states — including Maine — would be ineligible for the benefit. Joined by Committee Chairwoman Mary Landrieu, D-La., Snowe specifically noted that Congress did not permit certain states to be excluded owing to how their trade functions are organized and administered.
"As currently interpreted by the agency, the guidelines for the program exclude states that operate their state international trade offices as 501(c)3 non-profits or quasi-public agencies, rather than pure state agencies," the senators wrote. "As a result, more than a fifth of the United States would be excluded from applying for funding, including states like Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. It was not congressional intent that so many states be excluded from participating in the program."
Snowe specifically cited the Maine International Trade Center, which, though organized as a 501(c)3 non-profit, is the only office within the state charged with promoting the state's business community internationally. Under the SBA's current interpretation of the law, Maine would be excluded from participating in the STEP program, potentially depriving thousands of small businesses from receiving critical assistance in bolstering their exporting activities.
"Maine and nine other states with public-private export development programs benefit from invaluable input of their business community as well as the support of the government economic development structure," said Wade Merritt, vice president of MITC and current vice president of the State International Development Organizations (SIDO). "Each of us has a strong track record of success — we certainly hope that the SBA will recognize this and allow those state programs that are organized in this way to benefit from the STEP grants. We appreciate Senator Snowe's efforts, not only for working tirelessly to create the program, but also for weighing in strongly so that programs like Maine's and others should be treated no differently than those of the other 40 states."
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