(Washington, DC) – Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the lead Democrat on the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, today delivered the following opening statement at a hearing examining the Small Business Administration’s response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

(As prepared for delivery)

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing today on efforts to help small businesses recover from the recent unprecedented and catastrophic hurricanes. 

As I speak, millions of our fellow citizens are in imminent danger – without power, without communication and living with damaged or destroyed infrastructure.  American citizens in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico face a long and steep road to recovery, and today’s hearing will give us an opportunity to learn how Congress can help.

But I want to take a moment to call attention to the situation in Puerto Rico. What we are seeing there is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis. Lives are in imminent danger, and our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico deserve a robust and swift response from both the Administration and Congress.

I’m looking forward to hearing from the Administration about its plans for the island, as well as those areas affected by the Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

These hurricanes have caused billions of dollars in damages, displaced families from their homes, and crippled countless small businesses in local economies.  It will be some time until we know the true impact of these natural disasters. 

In early September, Congress passed a supplemental appropriations bill that provided more than $15 billion for disaster relief efforts, including $450 million to bolster the Small Business Administration’s disaster response through low-interest loans to flood victims. 

Today’s hearing is an opportunity for us to hear how SBA has responded and the progress that has been made to date.  It is also an opportunity to discuss how the federal government and local partners can continue to be valuable resources to small businesses as they face what must seem like an impossible task – recovery.

Natural disasters can strike anywhere at any time. While today’s hearing is focused on the recent hurricanes, it is critical for all of us to ensure that the SBA will be ready to respond when the next disaster strikes our states.

Like many of my colleagues, my home state of New Hampshire knows first-hand the damage natural disasters can cause.  In May 2006, the Mother’s Day flood caused the worst flooding since the New England Hurricane of 1938.  Southeastern New Hampshire was hit with 10 to 20 inches of rain, forcing hundreds of Granite Staters to evacuate.  SBA was essential to our recovery and provided 415 survivors with more than $11 million in financial assistance.

It’s also important to keep in mind that natural disasters are particularly devastating for small businesses and the people they employ. 

When natural disasters hit, big businesses often have the tools and resources to recover quickly, including access to capital and expertise.  Small businesses, on the other hand, need more help in the wake of a disaster.  Beyond financial support, they need technical assistance to get their businesses back up and running. 

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy.  They employ nearly half our private workforce and create two of three new jobs across the country. 

That is why we need to make sure that there are programs available to help small businesses and that these programs work. 

Unfortunately, natural disasters like the ones we just saw are becoming all too common.  As we work to better respond to these disasters, we ought to be looking at ways to mitigate damages and help small businesses recover faster. 

Finally, when a disaster strikes, time is of the essence.  I will continue to work with SBA to ensure disaster resources supported by these supplemental appropriations are available to small businesses, homeowners and renters without excessive red tape and wait times. 

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on their experience and perspectives on small business recovery to date.