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SBA Scrutinized Over Rising Loan Subsidies

If there was any federal agency that lawmakers were tripping over themselves to help, it’d be the Small Business Administration (SBA). Its close connection to the nation’s job creators is an easy source of political points for any interested legislator.

Yet, the SBA’s budget for Fiscal Year 2013 has recently received scrutiny for the agency’s skyrocketing cost of loan subsidies. At a hearing in the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Ranking Member Olympia Snowe (R-ME) grilled SBA Administrator Karen Mills on her agency’s ability to handle these increases.

“With our country’s economic recovery from the recent recession still lackluster at best, we must ensure that the SBA can be the catalyst small businesses require to get Americans back to work,” said Snowe. “That’s why it is critical the SBA establish a clear plan to reduce the subsidy costs in future years.”

From 2005 to 2009, the SBA’s flagship 7(a) and 504 loan programs operated at zero subsidy, meaning they paid for themselves through fees without any need for taxpayer support. In each of FY 2010 and FY 2011, however, the SBA required $80 million to subsidize these programs due to increased defaults, with subsidies ballooning to $350 million this year. “Looking at historical data, subsidies compared to the overall SBA budget continue to get higher every year, accounting for 12% of the total SBA budget in FY 2011; 26% in FY 2012; finally reaching an alarming 37% in FY 2013,” Snowe added. “This is the paramount issue in the Agency’s FY 2013 budget, and I urge the SBA to take these concerns seriously.”

It wasn’t all bad news for Mills, as Snowe tempered her concerns with effusive praise for Mills’ efforts to reduce the SBA’s administrative costs. “I have said that all Federal agencies, including the Small Business Administration, must tighten their belts during this difficult economic time, and I commend Administrator Mills for her effective management in this regard,” said Snowe. “Agency-wide overhead costs are largely held steady or reduced in this year’s budget request. Karen is demonstrating that the Federal government can and must do more with less, and I appreciate her leadership.”

Jacob Barron, CICP, NACM staff writer