WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) called on the Small Business Administration (SBA) to improve its implementation of the Women’s Small Business Center (WBC) and women’s small business procurement programs. As ranking member of the Committee, Snowe has long-advocated to improve the assistance offered to the nation’s 10.4 million women-owned businesses that employ more than 12.8 million Americans and generate nearly $1.9 trillion in revenue.

“The SBA’s Women’s Business Centers are an exceptional resource to women-owned businesses across the country,” said Senator Snowe. “I am immensely proud that the program has grown from four to 98 centers since its inception, which I supported back in 1988. That is why I am deeply disappointed that the SBA has failed to make the renewable grant program for Women’s Business Centers effective immediately. The SBA must execute the renewal grant program as soon as possible so that women’s business owners can receive the federal funding they rightly deserve.”

Testifying at the hearing was Ann Marie Almeida, Executive Director of the Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC), of Camden, Maine. As President and CEO of the AWBC, Ms. Almeida directs training, mentoring, funding and research programs that foster prosperity, encourage entrepreneurship, support economic access and empower leadership among women entrepreneurs. Ms. Almeida previously served as the Director of Programs and Development for the Camden Public Library in Camden, Maine. She also served as a consultant to the Camden Public Library Foundation.

“I was pleased to have Ann Marie Almeida travel from Camden, Maine to Washington, DC to testify today and offer critical insight into how to improve these vital programs,” said Senator Snowe. “I take great pride that my own state of Maine is a forerunner for women-owned businesses with more than 63,000 women-owned firms, creating 75,000 jobs and spurring more than $9 billion in sales.”

While noting that the SBA’s WBC Program has helped to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs, Senator Snowe expressed her dismay that the SBA has not acted upon recently enacted legislation to make a three-year renewable grant program for WBCs effectively immediately. On May 25, 2007, President Bush signed into law the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007, which created a three-year renewal grant program for WBCs, including those that have graduated or are graduating in Fiscal Year 2007 from the sustainability program. Senator Snowe championed this provision as Chair of the Small Business Committee in the 108th and 109th Congresses.

Additionally, Senator Snowe cited recent reports from the Government Accountability Office and the SBA’s Inspector General to criticize the SBA for failing to distribute funds to WBCs in a timely manner. Snowe also expressed her concern about reports from individual centers that the SBA has not made the evaluation process transparent.

“To date, the SBA has not done all that it can to pave the way for the women entrepreneurs who contribute so much to this nation’s economy,” said Senator Snowe. “While I am encouraged by the SBA's promise today to implement the renewable grant program within the next 120 days, rest assured that I will be watching closely to ensure the Agency delivers on this commitment.”

Finally, Senator Snowe expressed her dismay at the SBA’s six and a half year delayed implementation of the women’s contracting set-aside program enacted in December 2000. Snowe called upon the Agency to keep the promise it made during a July 18, 2007, Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee hearing to put this program into operation by the end of this fiscal year.

“With the end of this fiscal year just 10 days away, I believe that the SBA must keep its commitment with respect to the women’s contracting set-aside program,” said Senator Snowe. “This nation’s women entrepreneurs deserve nothing less.”