(Washington, D.C.) – Below is U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship Chair Ben Cardin’s (D-Md.) opening statement as delivered during today’s hearing titled, “Oversight of SBA's Office of Disaster Assistance.” Click here to download a video of the opening statement.

“Good afternoon.

“Today the committee will conduct oversight of the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance, which administers the SBA’s disaster programs. The office also implemented the COVID EIDL program that Congress created to support small businesses through the pandemic.

“Over the last two years, the SBA’s attention has largely been focused on supporting small businesses through the pandemic. EIDL has provided loans to nearly four million businesses and served as a lifeline when credit was not available from other sources.

“The program was critically important during this pandemic, and it worked.

“While the program has had its share of problems, including wide-spread fraud in the early months of the pandemic and poor communication with applicants, particularly during the program’s final months, its importance for small businesses cannot be overstated.

“This hearing is an opportunity to discuss the Office of Disaster Assistance’s traditional role, which is to help communities rebuild in the wake of natural disasters. Due to the effects of climate change, natural disasters are becoming more dangerous, deadly, and frequent in every part of this nation.

“In the southern states, what used to be once-in-a-century hurricanes and tornadoes are devastating communities and causing billions of dollars’ worth of damage every few years.

“In western states, there have been life-threatening heatwaves, crop-killing droughts, and historic wildfire seasons in just the last three years.

“And in my home state of Maryland, a single town—historic Ellicott City—suffered two devastating flash floods in two years.

“So, as we discuss the Office of Disaster Assistance’s procedures this afternoon, we must keep in mind that the SBA’s disaster loans to families and businesses will continue to be among the most important federal resources available in the wake of a disaster.

“The faster communities can access capital after a natural disaster, the more quickly they can return to their homes and reopen their businesses.

“For homeowners, faster loan processing times reduces the destabilizing effects of a natural disaster that may prevent parents from going to work or keep kids out of school.

“For small businesses, how quickly they receive a disaster loan could be the difference between a swift reopening or closing their doors for good.

“Small businesses are the growth engine of our economy and they are where we create jobs, but they do not have the same resiliency and the same deep pockets that larger companies have. So, when a natural disaster occurs, they are much more vulnerable and less likely to make it through that disaster.

“Moreover, acting quickly to get families back into their homes and to reopen shuttered businesses helps reestablish a state of normalcy for communities and can prevent them from splintering.

“The SBA, and the Office of Disaster Assistance more specifically, must do all it can to improve its disaster response to provide as much support as possible to communities in light of the increased dangers created by climate change.

“I was a member of this committee when the SBA made several improvements to its systems to shorten loan processing times following Hurricane Sandy almost a decade ago.

“Now, as the COVID EIDL program continues to wind down, the SBA must similarly take the lessons learned from the pandemic to make even more improvements.

“The role of this committee is to conduct oversight on how the SBA is responding to the experiences learned during the pandemic.

“Associate Administrator Sanchez, I am looking forward to hearing more about the consolidation of disaster lending functions into the Office of Capital Access that was finalized last week.

“I hope this change will address the wide-spread customer service problems that we saw in the COVID EIDL program over the last two years.

“I am also looking forward to hearing more about how the SBA intends to further empower resource partners and local community organizations to play a central role in the aftermath of natural disasters.

“The Maryland SBDC was an invaluable asset to small businesses in historic Ellicott City following the floods in 2016 and 2018. I was there; I saw their work; and I saw how they literally saved small businesses.

“In addition to working with resource partners to help small businesses recover after a disaster, the SBA should leverage these organizations’ regional knowledge and relationships to better prepare small business owners before a natural disaster. 

“For example, the SBA should use SBDCs, SCORE chapters, and Women’s Business Centers to help small business owners create business continuity plans that will make it easier to reopen following a disaster.

“Mr. Sanchez, I want to thank you once again for joining us today. Oversight is one of the most critical functions of this committee, so I am looking forward to a frank discussion about how the SBA and the Office of Disaster Assistance intend to support our communities in the years ahead.”