(Washington, D.C.) — U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) today convened a hearing to conduct oversight on the U.S. Small Business Administration’s State Trade Expansion Program (STEP).

Only 1 percent of America’s more than 30 million small businesses export their products and services because they often lack the relationships and expertise necessary to secure business in the global marketplace. Congress created STEP in 2010 to increase opportunities for small businesses to engage in international trade. The program provides grants to state economic development agencies so they can help small businesses attend international trade shows and connect with customers in foreign markets. The grants also allow economic development agencies to provide counseling and training to help small businesses understand the rules of international trade.

“As we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, international trade has the potential to be a major catalyst for growth for American small businesses. But they’re going to need some help,” Cardin said. “Currently, less than 1 percent of America’s small businesses export their products and services. This is a missed opportunity, because 95 percent of global consumers live outside the United States. This is a major market that American small businesses are not yet engaged with to the fullest capacity.”

STEP is one of the best investments Congress makes in small businesses. Last year, the STEP returned $42 in sales for small businesses for every $1 invested in the program.

On September 8, the SBA awarded $20 million in STEP grants to more than 50 states and territories, which is the highest amount of grantees in a single year since the program was founded. The $20 million appropriated for STEP was less than the $39 million in funding states and territories requested through the program. As a result of the oversubscription, the State of Maryland received only $600,000 of the $900,000 it requested.

Cardin called on Congress to give the SBA enough funding to meet demand, saying, “At the current return on investment for STEP, at $42 in returns for every $1 invested, providing only half of the grants requested by state governments cost small businesses an estimated $1 billion in sales in the export market. Again, this is a missed opportunity.”

Click here to watch Cardin’s opening statement.