Senate lawmakers are urging the White House to boost funding for federal small-business lending and assistance programs overseen by the Small Business Administration following years of cutbacks.

In a letter to the Office of Management and Budget this week, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship called the agency's budget cuts in recent years a "step in the wrong direction."

"It's more important than ever that the Bush administration puts their money where their mouth is and fully invests in America's entrepreneurs," Kerry said in a statement, citing a tightening labor market and a weaker outlook for employment.

Since 2001, the SBA's operating budget has been reduced by about 31 percent. In December, the Senate approved $569 million in funding for the agency's core programs in 2008, the first budget increase in seven years.

Kerry and Snowe said recent cuts were endangering assistance programs and leaving the agency unable to provide sufficient oversight for federal small-business contracting.

The Bush administration is expected to deliver its fiscal 2009 budget in February.