WASHINGTON – Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) praised the energy and entrepreneurship of Hispanic business owners around the country today as he addressed the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's 17th Annual Legislative Conference. Kerry, the Chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, also outlined his priorities for advancing small business interests and Latino entrepreneurship.

"Hispanic businesses play a vital role in fueling our economy. With Hispanic firms growing three times faster than other businesses, advancing Latino entrepreneurship isn't a Latino issue, it's an American issue," said Kerry. "Average income for Latinos in Massachusetts is half of the average income for the entire state. The key to bridging this wealth gap is investing in entrepreneurial development and small business programs targeted to the Hispanic community. I am committed to pursuing an aggressive agenda to make sure these entrepreneurs have the tools and opportunities necessary to start, maintain, and grow their business and I thank the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for their leadership in this effort."

There are more than two million Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States that increase our economic strength by $222 billion. Despite the significant contributions these entrepreneurs make in our society, Kerry emphasized that more needs to be done to ensure Hispanic-owned businesses have access to federal contracts and capital – like microloans. He also talked about the importance of reducing health care costs for small firms and all Americans and about the need to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year.

Kerry will be spearheading legislation this year to reauthorize small business programs at the Small Business Administration (SBA) this year. The SBA's budget has been slashed by nearly 40 percent since President Bush took office. Kerry pledged to restore funding to the agency and work in a bipartisan manner to pass reauthorization legislative packages this year.