By Tania Anderson

- Legislation introduced Thursday would provide small businesses with financial assistance for rising heating bills.

Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., submitted a measure that would authorize low-interest loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration for manufacturers with fewer than 500 employees, or service companies with annual profits of less than $3 million.

The small-business owner would have to prove that he or she could not afford to pay for their heating oil, propane, kerosene or natural gas bills, and was unsuccessful in obtaining other financial aid.

If the bill passes through Congress, businesses would be able to seek loans to cover heating bills from Nov. 1, 2000, through the end of April.

Soaring heating prices have the potential to hurt job markets and unravel our economic stability,'' said Mr. Kerry, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Small Business Committee. This legislation is a lifeline for small business owners who might be a heating fuel payment away from going out of business or laying off an employee.

Nationally, the cost of heating oil climbed 27 percent between September 1999 and September 2000. The cost of propane climbed 54 percent between January 2000 and January 2001.