WASHINGTON -- Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Ranking Member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, today introduced legislation to help small businesses suffering from significant increases in heating fuel costs.

“Between the war, winter storms and other events beyond our control, energy prices are skyrocketing and crippling many small businesses,” Kerry said. “Small business owners need working capital to cover these high heating costs, but their credit is stretched, their budgets are tight and banks can’t help them. Low-interest disaster loans can help, and they are a smart, short-term investment for our government to make in our nation’s economy.”

The legislation, the Small Business and Farm Energy Emergency Relief Act, gives small farms and businesses hurt by the price spikes access to credit through disaster loan programs at the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). Nationally, heating fuel costs have risen as much as 45 percent since last winter. Small businesses need access to capital to help alleviate these dramatic price increases.

“Just like hurricane victims in Florida, and flood victims in Pennsylvania, small businesses in New England, the Midwest, and throughout the country need help,” Kerry said. “These low-cost SBA loans will ensure businesses can pay for heating fuel this winter without risking their business to do it.”

Kerry originally introduced the bill in 2001 when small businesses were suffering from similar spikes in heating fuel costs. That bill passed the Senate with the support of a bi-partisan group of 34 Senators. The House, however, failed to consider the bill. Last year, Kerry and a bi-partisan coalition of 16 Senators requested the language be included in the 2005 Omnibus spending package, but the provision was not added.

Also cosponsoring the legislation are: Sens. Jack Reed (R.I.), Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Herb Kohl (Wis.), James M. Jeffords (Vt.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Barack Obama (Ill.).