WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate late last night unanimously passed H.R. 774, the Women's Business Center Amendments Act of 1999. The legislation, that will substantially increase funding for the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Women's Business Centers program, is based on legislation introduced by Senators John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Max Cleland (D-Ga.) last year in the Senate.  Women's Business Centers are the only national organizations that focus exclusively on entrepreneurial training programs for women. Currently, more than 50 centers, operating in 36 states nationwide, teach women the principles of finance, management and marketing.

"In Massachusetts and across the country, women's business centers are ensuring that new and potential women-owned businesses grow and thrive," Kerry, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Small Business Committee, said. "Since women-owned businesses contribute more than $3 trillion annually in revenues to the economy, addressing the special needs of women serves not only these entrepreneurs, but the economic strength of the nation as a whole."

In Massachusetts, where 147,000 women-owned businesses account for over one-third of all businesses, the Center for Women and Enterprise has worked to empower women to become economically self-sufficient through entrepreneurship. Since its inception in 1995, the center has served more than one thousand women business owners -- 40 percent of whom are minorities. One hundred cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts are benefitting from the programs and activities available at the Center.

The Kerry bill would amend the Small Business Act to increase the authorized funding level for women's business centers to $11 million, allow for new centers and sub-centers to be established, and provide continued funding for existing centers, including the on-line women's business center. In addition, increased funding would help achieve the goal of expanding centers to all 50 states.