Update: On Monday, the House passed legislation that will increase the cap for Small Business Administration 7(a) loans to $23.5 billion.
Small business has become a flashpoint in Congress as two lending programs essential to thousands of entrepreneurs have come under fire.
On Sunday, the Senate voted to advance a bill that would reauthorize the Export Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank), which has become a hot button issue for conservatives, who let its charter expire at the end of June. And on Thursday, one of the most important lending programs operated by the Small Business Administration, its 7(a) loan program, ran up against a cap for its government-backed guarantees.
The bill that would reopen the shuttered Ex Im Bank reportedly caused Ted Cruz--the Tea Party Republican presidential candidate from Texas, and one of the bank’s most ardent opponents--to call Senator Mitch McConnell a liar for supporting it. The bank claims to assist thousands of small businesses through loans and letters of credit that support their overseas sales, but has been much maligned by conservative politicians who say the bank represents crony capitalism for providing financial assistance to some foreign customers of large corporations such as Boeing and Caterpillar. The Senate voted Sunday night 67-26 to advance the bill, with 24 Republicans joining the chamber’s Democrats.
Meanwhile, a bill to increase the caps for the SBA program seems to be advancing more smoothly.
Last week, the Senate quickly passed a measure that would increase the guarantee the SBA offers on its 7(a) loans for the remainder of the fiscal year, which expires at the end of September. The program, which provides small business owners with working capital up to $5 million, has lent $19.2 billion to date, or $3 billion more than for fiscal year 2014.
The increase in loan volumes is a testament to the strength of the economic recovery, the SBA says.
“The amount of lending is way up,” says Miguel Ayala, a SBA spokesman. “There is a positive economic sentiment, and small business owners are taking more risk and want to expand their businesses.”
The 7(a) loans provide up to an 85 percent guarantee to the banks that actually do the lending. For fiscal year 2015, the total guarantee value, which is set by Congress, was capped at $18.75 billion. The Senate legislation would increase the cap to $23.5 billion, which is also the cap request for fiscal year 2016, which begins in October.
And the House is poised to pass its own bill that would lift the guarantee limit, with bipartisan support.
“The Committee has recognized the growth in the 7(a) program for a while, which is why we recommended a raise in the cap for the next fiscal year,” Steve Chabot (R, Ohio), chairman of the House Small Business Committee, said in an emailed statement. “We’re glad House and Senate leaders were able to move quickly to get a solution in the works and hope to have this resolved within the next few days.”
Meanwhile, small business owners say a solution on the caps can’t come quickly enough. Since 2011, Victor White has taken out two SBA 7(a) loans, totaling more $560,000 to support his business Alexander Heating & Cooling, in Sparks, Nevada. The most recent loan for $410,000, taken out in June 2014, has helped White, who operates the heating and cooling systems business with his wife Linda, increase its size.
In addition to purchasing an 8,000 square foot headquarters that houses his 18 full-time employees, the money has enabled him to land large commercial and industrial clients, as well as letting him expand into plumbing services, a new line of business.
White says other businesses should be able to get the loans to increase the scope of their businesses, too.
“It would have been more difficult for me to grow,” says White, who has added eight employees in the past four years. “And I would have had to turn away big opportunities and some of the larger jobs I have been able to go after.”