Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I am pleased today to join with my colleagues, Senators Johnson and Smith, as well as the cosponsors of our legislation, Senators Akaka, Baucus, Bingaman, Cantwell, Daschle, Murray, and Stabenow in introducing the Native American Small Business Development Act.

As many of my colleagues are aware, last Congress the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship unanimously passed nearly identical legislation, S. 2335, yet the bill was not taken up by the full Senate. Today, Senator Johnson, Senator Smith and I are reintroducing this bill because we recognize that there is an even a greater need for this legislation on tribal lands across the Nation. The economy continues to slump, access to capital is even more limited, and state funding for small business initiatives is being pulled back.

According to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the "three year average poverty rate for American Indians and Alaska Natives [from 1998-2000] was 25.9 percent. Higher than for any other race groups." With an unemployment rate well above the national average and household income at just three-quarters of the national average, Native American communities need a commitment from the Federal government that we will help them, particularly during these difficult economic times. To reaffirm this commitment, the Johnson-Kerry-Smith bill provides Native Americans the resources they need to take advantage of the opportunities of entrepreneurship.

Mr. President, this legislation bears the same name as legislation that recently passed the House, H.R. 1166, which was reintroduced by Congressman Tom Udall, a recognized leader in promoting the interests of American Indians. I would like to thank Congressman Udall for his work in stewarding the Native American Small Business Development Act through the House, this Congress and last, and for his assistance in working with Senators Johnson and Smith and me in drafting the Senate version of our legislation. And I would specifically like to thank Senator Smith for his continued support on this issue.

I would again like to thank the National Indian Business Association, the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, the Association of Small Business Development Centers, the Oregon Native American Business Entrepreneurial Network (ONABEN), Native American Management Services, Inc., and all of the tribes that met with us or provided information to help in the drafting of this legislation.

The Senate version of the Native American Small Business Development Act, while incorporating the heart of the Udall legislation, is more comprehensive and provides greater assistance to Native American communities. Senator Johnson, who serves on the Indian Affairs Committee, and I, as the lead Democrat on the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, were able to combine the resources and experiences of our committees in developing this legislation.

Mr. President, our need to fashion a more comprehensive business assistance package for Native American small businesses stems in part from a growing lack of commitment from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to our Native American communities under this Administration.

While I applaud the Bush Administration for responding to congressional requests by including $1 million in the Administration's FY 2003 budget request for Native American outreach, I was disappointed that it did not seek the full level of $2.5 million requested in a letter I sent with my colleagues Senators Daschle, Wellstone, Johnson, Bingaman and Baucus. Our request specifically sought funding for the SBA's Tribal Business Information Center (TBIC) program, an initiative started and successfully operated under the Clinton Administration. The TBIC program was designed to address the unique conditions faced by American Indians when they seek to start or expand small businesses.

Mr. President, I am disappointed that the Administration has eliminated all funding for Native American outreach in FY2004. With an average unemployment rate on reservations as high as 43 percent, it is inconceivable that two years of outreach is sufficient to have met our shared goal of building sustainable economic opportunities in those communities.

Mr. President, I do not believe that anyone in this Congress would dispute that economic development in Indian Country has often been difficult to achieve and that one important way to help American Indians who live on reservations is to provide them with assistance to open and run their own small businesses. Helping Native Americans open and run small businesses not only instills a sense of pride in the owner and his or her community, it also provides much-needed job opportunities, as well as other economic benefits.

Although underfunded, the TBIC program has provided assistance to a number of small businesses on Indian reservations. TBICs have the support of the American Indian communities they serve because they provide desperately needed, culturally tailored business development assistance in those communities. The Administration should be seeking to strengthen its commitment to programs that assist Native American communities. Unfortunately, the SBA cut off TBIC funding on March 31, 2002, and now 14 months later, has not met a request by a bipartisan group of Senators to begin the reprogramming process in order to keep the TBICs open.

The Native American Small Business Development Act will ensure that the SBA's programs to assist Native American communities cannot be dissolved by making the SBA's Office of Native American Affairs (ONAA) and its Assistant Administrator permanent. Our legislation would also create a statutory grant program, known as the Native American Development grant program, to assist Native Americans. It would also establish two pilot programs to try new means of assisting Native American communities and require Native American communities to be consulted regarding the future of SBA programs designed to assist them. In short, this legislation will ensure that our Native American communities receive the adequate assistance they need to help start and grow small businesses.

The ONAA will be responsible for helping Native Americans and Native American communities start, operate, and grow small businesses; develop management and technical skills; seek out Federal procurement opportunities; increase employment opportunities through the start and expansion of small business concerns; and increase their access to capital markets.

To be selected to serve as the Assistant Administrator for ONAA, a candidate must have knowledge of Native American cultures and experience providing culturally tailored small business development assistance to Native Americans. Under our legislation, the Assistant Administrator would be statutorily required to consult with Tribal Colleges and Tribal Governments, Alaska Native Corporations (ANC) and Native Hawaiian Organizations (NHO) when carrying out responsibilities under this legislation, which would give Native American communities a true voice within the SBA. The Assistant Administrator for ONAA would be responsible for administering the Native American Development program and the pilot programs created by the Native American Small Business Development Act.

The Native American Development program is designed to be the SBA's primary program for providing business development assistance to Native American communities. To offer this support, to the SBA will provide financial assistance in establish and keep Native American Business Centers (NABC) in operation. Financial assistance under the Native American Development program would be available to Tribal Governments and Tribal Colleges. Unlike the SBA's TBIC program, however, ANCs and NHOs would also be eligible for the grants.

NABCs would address the unique conditions faced by reservation-based American Indians, as well as Native Hawaiians and Native Alaskans, in their efforts to create, develop and expand small business concerns. Grant funding would be used by the NABCs to provide culturally tailored financial education assistance, management education assistance, and marketing education assistance.

The first pilot program under the legislation establishes a Native American development grant. This grant is modeled after the Udall legislation and is designed to bring the expertise of SBA's Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) to Native American Communities. Additionally, any private nonprofit organization, which has members of an Indian tribe comprising a majority of its board of governors or is an NHO or an ANC, may also apply for the grant. Nonprofits were included in the Senate version thanks to the thoughtful input of Senator Cantwell. Many American Indian communities in Washington state are served by an organization called ONABEN, which provides SBDC-like services to Native American communities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California. Organizations like ONABEN, which also has the strong support of Senator Smith, should be encouraged to continue their good work assisting Native American communities, and including them in the grant program available to SBDCs was an important addition to the legislation.

Finally, our legislation establishes a second pilot program to try a unique experiment in Indian Country. Grant funding would be made available to establish American Indian Tribal Assistance Centers. These centers will consist of joint entitles, such as a partnership between an NABC, a Native American development center (which receive grants from the Department of Commerce) and possibly an SBDC. The purpose of this grant is to coordinate experts from various entities to provide culturally tailored business development assistance to prospective and current owners of small business concerns on or near Tribal Lands.

Mr. President, I would again like to thank Senators Johnson and Smith and all of the cosponsors of this important legislation to assist our Native American communities. I would also, again like to thank Congressman Udall for taking the lead in the House on providing critical assistance for small businesses in Native American communities. I would urge all of my colleagues to cosponsor this legislation to help us fulfill our commitment to Native American communities.