Mr. President, as the Ranking Member on the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I rise today to join my colleague and chair, Senator Snowe, in introducing the Women’s Small Business Ownership Programs Act of 2006. This legislation reauthorizes and strengthens vital small business programs for women entrepreneurs Nationwide.

Small businesses are the driving force behind innovation and National economic prosperity in the United States. Employing over 19 million workers, while pumping some $2 trillion into the economy, America’s 10.6 million women-owned businesses play an integral role in this endeavor. However, despite their critical contributions to our Nation, women entrepreneurs still face many obstacles in the business world. Without the support and guidance of Women’s Business Centers and other women small business ownership programs, which provide necessary tools to ensure the long term success of women-owned firms, many female entrepreneurs would not be able to open their doors and stay in business. Given women-owned businesses’ contributions to our society, it is imperative that we continue to advocate on their behalf, and this legislation does just that.

In recent years, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has seen its annual budget repeatedly slashed by the Bush Administration – the most out of any other Federal agency. The fiscal year 2007 proposal was no different. Among the various programmatic cuts within the President’s fiscal year 2007 budget, technical assistance funding was set at just $104 million – down from his proposals of $108 million in fiscal year 2006 and $111 million in fiscal year 2005. This funding plays a crucial role in the development and sustainability of Women’s Business Centers in states across the country. The SBA provides grants from technical assistance funding to help support over 80 Women’s Business Centers Nationwide. One such example is the Center for Women and Enterprise, which has served the greater Boston, Worcester, and Providence areas since 1995. In that time, the Center has certified over 150 women-owned businesses and served as a catalyst in helping entrepreneurs create over 15,000 new jobs.

More centers such as this ought to be in place in areas spanning the Nation. That is why I made it a priority to author and pass the Women’s Business Center Sustainability Act of 1999, to help successful centers remain open and viable in the areas they serve. This bill was signed into law as a means of safeguarding successful centers with proven results by authorizing continued funding for a set time period under sustainability grants. The theory behind this bipartisan legislation was to continue to allow for new centers, but to also ensure that those with a proven track record would continue to be helped. And yet, since its enactment, Senator Snowe and I have had to fight each year to ensure that there is sustainability funding through the passage of numerous temporary extensions and a series of exchanges with the SBA. These centers are vital in equipping women entrepreneurs with the tools they need to succeed in business, and it is unfortunate that this Administration has attempted to eliminate sustainability funding since President Bush took office. It is high time that all centers demonstrating proven results year in and year out receive this sustainability funding.

The legislation I am introducing today, guarantees the future of the Women’s Business Center Program and bridges it with other SBA-related women’s initiatives to ensure there exists a unified and cohesive mission driving the programs forward for women entrepreneurs across the country. In this, the bill not only makes permanent the Women’s Business Center Sustainability Pilot Program (through the creation of three-year “renewal” grants for centers with sustainability grants, and four-year “initial” grants for new centers across the country), but it also increases the program’s authorization levels. Furthermore, our legislation calls for the Office of Women’s Business Ownership to make all Women’s Business Center grants at $150,000 and to work in consultation with Women’s Business Centers whenever making improvements to the program.

Additionally, this legislation calls for a more streamlined approach for the Women’s Business Center Program’s data collection, grant application, and selection criteria, in an effort to ensure a smooth transition from sustainability to the newly established program. The Women’s Small Business Ownership Programs Act of 2006 also contains privacy protections for the Women’s Business Council, Women’s Business Centers, and their small business clients.

The bill’s provisions make several minor, yet significant, changes to both the Interagency Committee on Women’s Business Enterprise, as well as the National Women’s Business Council – enabling both entities to serve as a better resource for not only the Administration and Congress, but the larger small business community as well. In order to increase and strengthen women business owners’ representation in the Federal government, the bill reestablishes the Interagency Committee on Women’s Business Enterprise, and creates a Policy Advisory Group to aide the Committee’s chairperson in the development of policies and programs under this Act. It also creates three subcommittees similar to those created under the National Women’s Business Council. Additionally, in order to afford the National Women’s Business Council more flexibility in its use of funds, the bill gives it cosponsorship authority, and directs it to act as a clearinghouse for historical data.

I would like to remind my colleagues that similar legislation drew wide bipartisan support in the 108th Congress. Despite arriving at a bipartisan Women’s Business Center compromise on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, the Republican majority failed to include this compromise in the last SBA reauthorization package. I would like to thank Chair Snowe for her work in addressing the needs of America’s female entrepreneurs, and for her steadfast support for this legislation. She is a true advocate for women-owned small businesses.

Mr. President, I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support the Women’s Small Business Ownership Programs Act of 2006, and ask that the full text of my statement be included in the record.