Mr. James Rivera
Associate Administrator, Office of Disaster Assistance, United States Small Business Administration
U.S SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20416
Testimony of Mr. James Rivera
Associate Administrator for Disaster Assistance
U.S. Small Business Administration
December 13, 2012
U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship
Good morning Chair Landrieu, Ranking Member Snowe, and distinguished members of the Committee. Thank you for inviting me to discuss SBA’s efforts in response to Superstorm Sandy and SBA’s role in disaster response and recovery. SBA appreciates your strong support of the agency’s disaster operations and your continued leadership in making our country better equipped to deal with large natural disasters.
Administrator Mills and Deputy Administrator Johns have seen firsthand the tremendous damage caused throughout the northeast by Sandy, and as you know, the damage is immense. This is one of the largest disasters our country has confronted since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast more than seven years ago.
I can assure you that the Federal government is leveraging all of its resources to provide timely and effective assistance to all of the affected areas. SBA is working closely with our response and recovery partners at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). We also are closely coordinating with local and state agencies and are in regular contact with local officials to ensure that we are doing everything possible to assist the maximum number of businesses and homeowners in the affected communities.
In terms of our own efforts, we are providing a “one SBA” approach to our Sandy response. Directors from across SBA are leveraging public and private sector resources, including our partners at the Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), throughout the affected areas. Thus far, we have deployed over 300 Disaster Customer Service Representatives to the region.
As you know, SBA is responsible for providing affordable, timely and accessible financial assistance in the form of low-interest loans to businesses of all sizes, homeowners, renters, and non-profit organizations in the aftermath of a disaster.
SBA has made a number of improvements in recent years that have allowed us to better respond to disaster survivors. For example, we have reduced disaster loan processing times, streamlined application forms, and implemented a redesigned electronic loan application – all of which have led to a more transparent and efficient application process. We continue to meet our goal of processing all disaster applications within 14 to 18 days, down from 60 to 70 days following Hurricane Katrina. We also now have designated case managers for each approved application so borrowers know their principal point of contact when they have a question or need help.
Last year we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with HUD, improving our coordination on duplication of benefits to ensure those with unmet needs are still eligible for HUD Community Development Block Grants. SBA and HUD now have a transparent mechanism to share data across agencies regarding loan borrowers and grantee recipients.
Superstorm Sandy disaster survivors in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island – all of which received Presidential Disaster Declarations – can apply for home and business disaster loans online or in person at any of the 100 centers across the area, including the FEMA lead Disaster Recovery Centers or the SBA-run Business Recovery Centers (BRCs), with additional assistance from local resource partners, such as SBDCs, SCORE, and Women’s Business Centers. Additionally, North Carolina and Virginia received an SBA Administrative Disaster Declaration, making affected homeowners, renters, and businesses eligible for SBA disaster assistance.
To date, SBA has approved over 3,000 applications for $192 million.
Many disaster survivors do not have ready access to television, radio or the internet. To address these situations, SBA has a Disaster Customer Service Center that is handling disaster survivor calls seven days a week and also provides language translation services. As of this week, SBA had personally met with more than 50,000 disaster survivors. SBA has responded to over 80,000 phone calls at its Disaster Customer Service Center with a wait time of less than 61 seconds.
Between our processing centers, call center, and on the ground staff, SBA has over 2,000 disaster employees currently working on Superstorm Sandy. This is in addition to our SBA District offices and all of our resource partners. Whether on the ground in the affected areas or at our regional centers, the SBA is keenly focused on one primary goal: meeting the needs of the families and businesses who have been affected by this tragic event and helping them to rebuild following this devastating storm. We know this is a long-term process and we are committed to doing the hard work necessary to ensure that these small business owners and their communities are able to emerge stronger than before.
I appreciate the opportunity to update this Committee on SBA’s disaster recovery effort for Superstorm Sandy. We firmly believe that the reforms we have instituted have enabled us to be prepared to efficiently and effectively respond to the needs of our nation’s disaster survivors. I look forward to answering any questions. Thank you.