WASHINGTON – Today Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) chaired a hearing before the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship to examine the economic consequences and potential solutions for small businesses suffering from record-high gas prices. Following the hearing, Kerry and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) will introduce legislation to establish a fuel emergency program for small firms struggling to cope with rising gas costs. Kerry and Cantwell will also offer the provisions as an amendment to the energy bill currently being debated in the Senate.

"Many of our nation's small businesses are built around using reliable transportation to provide services for their customers," said Kerry. "Last month's record-setting gas prices packed an economic punch that will force small businesses to pass on the costs to consumers or absorb the loss. We can't be lulled into a false sense of security that gas prices are coming down – they're not. My legislation to create a grant program for small firms facing economic hardships is one solution Congress can pass now to help keep America's small businesses competitive."

"Small businesses all across our country are hurting from record fuel costs that eat up their profit margins," said Cantwell. "More than 25 percent of small businesses have had to increase their prices as a direct result of rising fuel costs. It's time we helped fuel-dependent small businesses stay competitive so they can continue providing good, high-quality jobs."

The hearing featured testimony by Frederick W. Smith, Chairman, President and CEO of Federal Express, which got its start as a small business. Smith advocated for strong bipartisan energy security legislation that would improve corporate average fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards. Additionally, the Energy Information Administration testified that high gas prices are here to stay. Guy Caruso, head of the independent agency, said average gas prices are expected to remain at $3.05 for the summer – 21 cents higher than last summer, with another forecasted peak in August.

The Committee also heard from small businesses – a pizza store owner, an office supply company, and a representative of small trucking companies – impacted by high gas prices and that favor of programs that would provide assistance.

Kerry and Cantwell's bill, the Small Business Emergency Fuel Assistance Act, will be offered as an amendment to H.R. 6, the CLEAN Energy Act. Their proposal would create a grant program within the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Agency that authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to issue grants to states to provide assistance for fuel-dependent small businesses in the wake of a Presidential fuel emergency declaration. Small firms and farms demonstrating need and a plan toward becoming more energy efficient would be eligible for these grants.