WASHINGTON – Today Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) called on President Bush to sign legislation that includes recovery assistance for small businesses affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and creates a grant program for established, successful Women's Business Centers around the country. The Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill, which included these provisions, passed the Senate today and is on the way to the President's desk. Senators Kerry and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) also successfully sought the removal of a controversial provision included in the House version of the bill that would have jeopardized sole source contract awards that benefit small businesses – particularly minorities, women and veterans.

Senators Kerry, Snowe, Landrieu, and David Vitter (R-La.) requested $25 million for states impacted by the 2005 hurricanes: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas to ensure small businesses receive the capital they need through the Small Business Administration's disaster loan program. Senator Landrieu, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the conference committee, secured this additional funding. Senators Kerry, Snowe and John Sununu (R-N.H.) secured an amendment to the minimum wage bill, which passed the Senate in January, to extend funding options for Women's Business Centers.

"Small businesses are still reeling from the long-term effects of Katrina and Rita, almost two years after the disaster," said Kerry, Chairman of the Committee. "This legislation gives businesses in the Gulf Coast a fighting chance. The bill also will keep our successful Women's Business Centers strong, giving them the resources they need to help millions of entrepreneurs through counseling and training programs. I urge the President to sign this bill to give small businesses a foothold for their success."

"Over a year and a half since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the devastating levee breaks that followed, many Louisiana small businesses have reopened their doors, but are having trouble operating because of the slow return of residents and tourism," said Landrieu. "That is why I included this additional $25 million for economic injury loans for our businesses in the Senate-passed supplemental appropriations bill and fought to ensure it was retained in conference on the final bill. Our small businesses are doing an invaluable service for our communities by serving as the economic backbone for our recovery. I thank Chairman Kerry and Ranking Member Snowe for working closely with me to secure this key provision and I will continue to work with them to get this and other small business assistance signed by the President."

Hurricane-Impacted Businesses

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, over 125,000 businesses were disrupted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. In Louisiana alone, over 81,000 small businesses were damaged or economically impacted, with 18,000 businesses catastrophically destroyed by the storms.

In St. Bernard Parish, one of the Louisiana parishes hardest-hit by Hurricane Katrina, only 370 businesses have re-opened – far below the total of 1,400 businesses in operation before Katrina. In addition, only 38 percent of the pre-Katrina population has returned to the parish, according to state statistics. Some of the other hardest-hit parishes in Louisiana are also experiencing similar population declines: Cameron Parish's population is 74 percent, Plaquemines Parish 68 percent, and Orleans Parish 43.

Women's Business Centers

Currently, Women's Business Centers are eligible for federal funding for up to 10 years, thanks to the sustainability pilot program Kerry created in 1999, which extended funding options from 5 to 10 years total. The provision in the supplemental appropriations bill creates a permanent funding stream. Specifically, it allows established Centers to apply for 3-year grants on an ongoing basis. This permanent stream of federal funding is critical to helping the Centers secure matching private funds and to continue providing assistance to small businesses.