July 20, 2004 -- The U.S. Small Business Administration announced its funding plan for its Women's Business Centers (WBCs), but more than half may not receive any of the grants.

While $5.1 million in matching grants will be provided to 34 existing WBCs, those more than five years old will be excluded, threatening the closure of many existing centers.

In a shift in policy direction, the SBA decided this year that it would use the program's $12.5 million budget to fund only new centers and those under 5-years-old. In its 16-year history, the SBA had previously funded all existing centers.

Centers more than five-years-old will be forced to fund themselves through private contributions or state and local funding unless Congress intervenes. As reported in the August issue of Inc., women's business groups, such as the Association of Women Business Centers, claim that 53 of the 91 existing centers would face budget deficits without SBA funding and could close starting in September.

The SBA said that the program was only intended to serve as seed money for centers.

Legislation was introduced in both houses of Congress to require funding for all existing centers when it became apparent that many centers would close without it. The Senate passed a bill unanimously at the end of April that would allow the SBA to tap funds normally set aside for newly-established WBCs. The House referred the legislation to the House Small Business Committee in the middle of May and awaits a final vote.

"If this isn't resolved before Congress takes its summer recess, those centers will have to close," said Stephanie Peacock, a spokeswoman for the National Women's Business Council.

WBCs served more than 100,000 clients nationwide in 2003, according to the SBA. Much of the centers' training and counseling is directed toward economically disadvantaged women and includes programs in areas such as financial management, marketing and technical assistance and procurement training.