WASHINGTON – Last night the Senate unanimously passed legislation that will expand business opportunities for veterans and help reservists keep their businesses afloat during and after deployment, sending the legislation to President Bush to sign into law. Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and Congressman Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) have been working to pass the legislation since July.

“This bipartisan victory will ensure that our country’s 24 million veterans and 1.7 million reservists will now have access to more tools to help grow their businesses and our economy,” said Senator Kerry. “The very least a grateful nation can do is guarantee that our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan don’t have to decide between defending our national security abroad and protecting their economic security at home. This is one small way that we can show our gratitude for our troops’ service. I urge the President to sign this bill into law as soon as possible.”

Kerry and Snowe attached similar provisions to the Department of Defense authorization bill that passed in September, but the provisions were stripped out when the House and Senate negotiated differences in the final bill. The bill was brought up for full consideration by the Senate in November, and it cleared the Senate in December. Last month, the House passed the bill with minor changes, clearing the path for the Senate to pass it today. The legislation is based on the compromise reached by the House and Senate during Department of Defense authorization negotiations.

Senator Snowe said, “As alarming numbers of our Guard members and reservists continue to selflessly answer their nation’s call to duty, we in Congress must similarly fulfill our responsibility to protect their livelihoods back home. This is all the more imperative at a time that our economy faces the threat of recession. It is, therefore, fitting that one of Congress’s early actions in 2008 was to pass our bipartisan and bicameral legislation to assist our nation’s veteran entrepreneurs during these trying times.”

“The Senate’s passage of this bill is great news for America’s veterans,” Congressman Altmire said. “I originally introduced this bill because I wanted to make sure America’s heroes had better access to resources and funding that can help them succeed as small business owners. In the field of battle, our men and women in uniform have shown that they have the talent and the dedication needed to get the job done. Helping our veterans successfully pursue entrepreneurial opportunities at home is both the right thing to do and a smart move that will help boost our economy.”

The bill is based on legislation Senators Kerry and Snowe introduced last year, the Military Reservist and Veteran Small Business Reauthorization and Opportunity Act (S. 1784) and includes provisions from a House-passed bill sponsored by Congressman Altmire and co-sponsored by Senator Joseph Lieberman (I/D-Conn.), Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.). Specifically, the legislation passed today by the Senate will:

  • Increase the authorization of appropriations for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Veteran Business Development;
  • Create an Interagency Taskforce on Veteran Small Business to focus on increasing veterans’ small business success, procurement and franchising opportunities, and access to capital;
  • Make permanent the Advisory Committee on Veterans Business Affairs;
  • Allow the SBA Administrator to offer loans up to $50,000 without requiring collateral from a loan applicant;
  • Improve the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan program by providing a longer application deadline; creating a pre-deployment loan approval process; expanding outreach and technical assistance;
  • Require a Government Accountability Office report on the needs of service-disabled veterans and a separate report on how to improve relations between employers and reservist employees;
  • Create a loan participation program in which veterans can receive 7(a) loans while paying 50 percent of the fees;
  • Require Veteran Business Outreach Centers to increase their participation in the Transition Assistance Program;
  • Create a grant program to improve Small Business Development Centers’ outreach to the veteran community; and
  • Instruct the Associate Administrator of the Office of Veterans Business Development to create and disseminate information aimed at informing women veterans about the resources available to them.