WASHINGTON, March 11/U.S. Newswire/ -- U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), Chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, has called on the Senate's top appropriators to help reverse budget cuts in two key programs designed to strengthen the technological competitiveness of small businesses in rural areas.

Snowe and a bipartisan group of 14 other senators today released a letter calling on Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) to help identify new sources of funding "to alleviate the severe impact" of cuts in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program contained in the "Omnibus Appropriations Act" for Fiscal Year 2003.

"At this crucial time, when small businesses are struggling in a slow economy, it makes little sense to sacrifice funding for these efficient and cost-effective programs, which clearly help sustain small firms," Snowe said Tuesday. "Rekindling economic growth will be difficult unless the federal government helps stimulate the small-business sector. Sacrificing funds for programs like these will only slow the economic recovery we all seek and hurt the very communities that face the biggest obstacles on the road to recovery."

About $3.5 million in combined funding targeted for SBIR's Federal and State Technical Partnership (FAST) Program as well as SBIR's Rural Outreach Program were cut from the Conference Report on the "Omnibus Appropriations Act," which was signed into law by the President on February 20. The Bush Administration had requested $3 million for the SBIR FAST program, which provides grants to the states to strengthen the technological competitiveness of small businesses, and $500,000 for the SBIR Rural Outreach program, which provides grants to approximately 25 states to increase participation in the SBIR Program.

"In light of this history, we are very concerned that the Conference Report eliminated all funding for FAST SBIR Rural Outreach," the Senators wrote. Moreover, last July, the Senate had agreed to fund both the SBIR FAST and SBIR Rural Outreach programs at the amounts requested by the Administration.

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