A Fee For Free Service?

The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), known for helping out cash-strapped entrepreneurs with free advice from former business leaders, is having cash flow problems of its own. And that could force SCORE chapters to charge for some of their most popular free programs.

Each year, Congress doles out $5 million to the group's 389 chapters, staffed by ex-execs who dispense wisdom to entrepreneurs. The Small Business Administration has typically helped pay for administrative expenses, such as travel, photocopying, and advertising. Now, it seems, the SBA can't ante up its latest $400,000 chunk. The agency argues that the funding is discretionary and that it needs the money to cover basic operations.

SCORE reps at one Miami chapter are already bemoaning the fact that they'll have to start charging fees to cover the shortfall. "We have free seminars three times a month that draw 60-70 people," says Dade County-area Chairman Louis Garcia. "If we start charging, it's going to get down to 15 or 20."

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