- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and Sen. John Kerry are pushing legislation to increase business training for minority college students, saying it’s needed to bolster minority business ownership.

Mr. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, said the goal of the program is to train minority students — blacks, Hispanics and American Indians — with skills in engineering, math and science to open businesses.

The legislation would set up a $24 million, two-year pilot program for colleges that cater to minorities to create curriculum geared to promote small-business development.

The schools then would provide capital for graduating students to start businesses. The bill also would allow institutions to set up small-business development centers to provide counseling and other assistance.

Mr. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said Congress is concerned that the Small Business Administration has not met its goals for the number of minority businesses eligible for loans, and is working to create other ways to help minorities.

“Part of the procurement standards instructs SBA to get to reach 23 percent of minority-owned business eligible for loans, and they only got to 17 percent last year,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Cummings said statistics from the Department of Labor, Census Bureau and National Urban League show a continual wealth gap between minorities and whites. He said the failings of the SBA mandates that Congress do more.

The U.S. Labor Department reported that unemployment rates among blacks reached a high of 9 percent, nearly double that of the general population. The U.S. Census Bureau says the poverty rate for blacks has increased substantially and that whites are continuing to widen the income gap over blacks, Hispanics and American Indians.

Mr. Cummings is working on support for the House bill.

Mr. Kerry’s version passed out of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship yesterday on an 18-0 vote as part of a Small Business Administration reauthorization bill.

Mr. Kerry said he expects to gain Republican support, even into next week as the Senate wraps up its business before the summer recess.

“Senator Olympia Snowe [Maine Republican] joined on as an original co-sponsor, and with its unanimous passage in the committee, I expect we will get a lot more to sign on,” he said.

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