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SBA head: Agency will avoid major blow from cuts

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JOYCE M. ROSENBERG | February 22, 2013 03:44 PM EST | AP

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NEW YORK — The head of the U.S. Small Business Administration says she doesn't expect operations at the agency to be dramatically affected by automatic federal budget cuts scheduled to begin March 1.

Administrator Karen Mills said that the SBA won't need to furlough employees because it already cut staffers through early retirements. "We are down the requisite amount of expenses, but we're not having to furlough to do it," Mills said in a Friday meeting with reporters.

Mills also expects little impact on the amount of loans the SBA guarantees. According to the White House, SBA loan guarantees would be cut by up to $902 million. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the agency guaranteed $30 billion. But Mills said demand for one type of loan, known as the 504 loan, is expected to fall this year, and that will likely mean the agency will be able to meet demand for its other loans. There was a sharp increase in 504 loans last year because of a now-expired provision allowing them to be used as a mortgage refinancing tool.

"We are not slowing down giving loans to anyone," Mills said.

Mills says that many small businesses have already felt the impact of the budget cuts that are known, in congressional parlance, as sequestration. She noted that contracts at the Pentagon, the agency that has the biggest federal contracting budget, were down sharply in December in anticipation of the budget cuts.

"Small businesses suffered a large part of that because spending was delayed in anticipating of sequestration, and so they didn't get their contracts," she said.

Mills announced last week that she plans to leave the SBA this year, but would stay in her post until a successor is chosen and sworn in. She declined Friday to speculate on who that might be. Mills, who worked for private equity firms before coming to the SBA in 2009, said she's undecided about what she'll do next.