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House Approves International Microenterprise Loan Programs

On June 4, the House approved, by voice vote, a measure (H.R. 4073) that would allocate loan money to entrepreneurs and small business owners in developing countries. H.R. 4073 was considered under suspension of the rules, an expedited floor procedure that limits debate, prohibits amendments, and requires a two-thirds majority for passage. H.R. 4073 would allocate $175 million in FY2003 and $200 million in FY2004 for microenterprise loans, to be administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in developing countries. In FY2001 and FY2002, Congress allocated $155 million for these loans.

The bill would require USAID to measure the poverty levels of potential loan recipients as a way to guarantee that half of the loans are given to people living in the bottom 50 percent of their country’s poverty line or to those who live on $1 or less per day.

Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), the bill’s sponsor, said that H.R. 4073 “is part of the effort to give women the opportunity to take care of themselves, as well as their families.” He also noted that a loan of several hundred dollars or less, “by our standards, might be considered quite small,” however, it “is often a substantial portion of a person’s yearly earnings in the developing world.”

Agreeing with Rep. Smith, Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) said, “International development investments in women and girls bring the greatest gains for economic growth and national development.” She added, “When women increase their incomes, they directly invest this additional capital in the education, health and welfare of their children, potentially breaking the cycle of poverty.”

Rep. Karen McCarthy (D-MO) also noted that microenterprise is “an economically sound method of fighting poverty.” She continued, “Microenterprise programs offer a combination of services and resources to their clients, including savings facilities, training, networking, and peer support. In this way, microenterprise allows families to work to end their own poverty with dignity.”

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