This past week, the United States Senate approved the Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2009 that includes vital funding to sustain and enhance the health and economic well-being of working Maine families and America’s most vulnerable. The budget plan we passed will go a long way to helping the people who require it the most. At a time when job losses are increasing, job growth is slowing and energy prices are skyrocketing, we passed a budget that offers more support to our nation’s small businesses and provides more LIHEAP assistance for low-income families.

As our nation begins to adjust to the challenges created by a slowing economy, this budget was an opportunity for us to invest in the things that can inject new life into our economy. As Ranking Member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I have been a forceful advocate for additional SBA funding. The economic engine that drives our economy is small businesses. SBA’s core programs and services help small enterprises grow, expand, and, most critically, create jobs.

The budget we passed provides an additional $101 million more than the Administration’s $483 million request for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) core programs. It sufficiently bolsters the SBA’s Entrepreneurial Development programs such as the Small Business Development Center network, Women’s Business Centers, Veterans-assistance, and SCORE. In addition, it will fund key programs such as HUBZone, the microloan program, and the SBA’s government contracting efforts.

While we increase our support for the programs that will grow our economy, it is also imperative that we provide relief for the people who are struggling as we wait for new growth policies to take effect. I was very pleased the Senate agreed to include an amendment I co-sponsored that increased LIHEAP funding in the FY-2009 budget from $2.5 billion to $5.1 billion. Maine’s families are struggling to heat their homes and with record energy prices soaring by the day, we need to provide more support for low-income families. The proposed FY-2009 budget fell far short of providing the kind of relief Maine’s families need to overcome a flagging economy and rising energy costs.

At a time when energy prices seem to have no limit we must provide emergency funding for this winter while simultaneously making preemptive measures to mitigate the burden for next winter. No family should ever go without the capacity to heat their homes and the recent spiral in prices is making that harder every single day. Last night, the Senate took decisive action and recognized that energy assistance must increase and provide additional resources for those who need it the most.

As the budget process moves ahead, it is essential that the priorities we established in the Senate-passed bill are preserved. The budget process is a very complicated and delicate procedure that can come undone at anytime. The next step is for House and Senate appointed conferees to come together, meet and agree on a mutual budget resolution. In order to safeguard the critical provisions in this budget that will help so many hard-working Americans, I am urging the budget conference committee not to adopt any hurdles that will undo our efforts. The insert of “reconciliation instructions