Veterans, Small Business Benefit from This Budget (Sen. Olympia Snowe)

Every year, hundreds of thousands of America’s finest look to the Veterans Benefits Administration to process the claims due to them as a result of their unselfish and steadfast service to our nation. Among many other worthwhile programs, this critical legislation will give the Veterans Administration the funding it needs to reduce the current backlog of claims and ensure all processing personnel make more accurate decisions.

I am proud of my Senate colleagues for ensuring that our Veterans receive the benefits they so rightly earned and deserve. In March, Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and I introduced an amendment to the FY 2008 Budget Resolution that will help the Department of Veteran Affairs better manage and reduce its current backlog of pending disability and compensation claims. The amendment, which passed unanimously in the Senate, provided an additional $70.3 million in funding to train and hire claims processors and help our nation’s Veterans receive their benefits and compensation in a more timely and cost efficient manner.

It also provides the help that small businesses need to compete and succeed by restoring vital funding for many Small Business Administration programs that are working so well in Maine and across the country. Senator Kerry (D-Mass.) and I had crafted a provision to secure an additional $97 million to the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) budget for next year – a 21 percent increase above the $464 million President Bush requested. The Budget Resolution provides guidance to the Appropriations Committees as they set the actual spending levels for next year. My amendment with Senator Kerry was cosponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-D-Conn.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

Specifically, it increases funding for:

* Veterans Programs to $2 million (from $743,000 in the President's budget request)

* 7(j) Technical Assistance Program to $3 million (from $1.5 million)

* Small Business Development Centers to $110 million (from $87 million)

* SCORE Program to $7 million (from $4.95 million)

* Women's Business Centers to $16.5 million (from $11.9 million)

* Native American Outreach to $2 million (from $772,000)

* U.S. Export Assistance Centers to $7 million (from $5.2 million)

* Microloan Technical Assistance to $20 million (the President's budget proposal sought to eliminate this program)

* Microloans to $3.2 mllion (from zero)

* Program for the Investment in Microentrepreneurs to $5 million (the President's budget proposal sought to eliminate this program)

* Hiring 100 Procurement Center Representatives (oversee federal contracting) to $10 million (from $900,000)

* New Markets Venture Capital to $5 million (from zero)

* New Markets Technical Assistance to $5 million (from zero)

* HUBZones to $10 million (from $2 million)

* Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) outreach programs to $6 million (from zero)

Finally, the Conference Report also included pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) provisions which has been one of my top priorities and was central to the Congress balancing the budget in the 1990s. The measure requires that all tax cuts and new direct spending to be offset even if those policies were assumed in the budget resolution. I have stated since the start of this budget debate that restoring and enforcing pay-as-you-go was essential to the sound fiscal discipline that we desperately need in the face of skyrocketing deficits.

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