WASHINGTON – Yesterday, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) called on the Bush Administration to implement a law signed into law earlier this month that provides increased business assistance to veterans and reservists. The law, authored by Senators Kerry and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), creates a taskforce to focus on helping veterans access capital, expands business opportunities and reduces fees on loans using the government’s largest small business loan program known as 7(a).
The Bush Administration says it needs funding to reduce the fees on the 7(a) loans to veterans. Below is the transcript of the exchange between Senator Kerry and Small Business Administration chief Steven Preston at the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing on the agency’s budget. To watch a video of the exchange visit: www.sbc.senate.gov/080227vet.cfm.
KERRY: Do you have a judgment as to how much you need to be able to implement it?
PRESTON: I don’t off the top of my head, but we could certainly provide that to you…
KERRY: Do you have a program volume that you can estimate to the Committee based on what’s already been requested?
PRESTON: I don’t have that for you today.
KERRY: Could you get that to us?
KERRY: The bottom line is, we’d like to know how much money, if in fact it’s an issue of not having money, we want to know how much it is, because that’s a priority program for the Committee and it’s kind of an unfortunate charade if veterans are being told that Congress passed a bill to help them get into the business, and then they try to do it and we say there is no money. We did not intend for that. We thought that was contained within the fees. The current fees were supposed to be able to pay for that.
PRESTON: Well, my colleague just gave me the number we have in the veteran’s piece. Assuming a billion dollar program, the cost would be about $42 million. And I think last year we had just over $900 million in veteran’s loans, so that should be a good indicator.
KERRY: Is the veteran’s component contained within your budget request now?
PRESTON: No, it’s not.
KERRY: Is there a reason why not? Would that not be a major priority for this administration?
PRESTON: Well the veteran’s bill was just passed, so it’s not something we would have been able to reflect in our budget, and I know we’ve been having conversations…
KERRY: How will we get at it now? Will they ask for it in the supplemental? Will they agree to raise this amount?
PRESTON: What we would need to do is work with you in the appropriations process…
KERRY: Will the administration support funding for that?
PRESTON: I don’t know at this point, I would need to work with my colleagues in the administration and bring back an answer for you.
KERRY: So you don’t know at this point whether or not you’re willing to fund the veteran’s program that was signed into law by the President? Sign it into law and not fund it?
PRESTON: I don’t have an answer for you on specifically subsidizing the veteran’s 7(a) program.
KERRY: Can you get that for us?
KERRY: How long will it take to get that?
PRESTON: I don’t know, but we’ll be in touch with your staff right after this hearing.
KERRY: Thank you.