WASHINGTON - Senator John F. Kerry, Chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, today passed legislation through the committee to deliver millions of dollars to small businesses suffering economically from the severe drought conditions throughout the nation. The Small Business Drought Relief Act will provide emergency assistance to non-farm small businesses that have fallen through the cracks of Federal assistance programs -- farmers and ranchers have a lifeline through the Department of Agriculture, and farm-related small businesses already receive help through the SBA.

Today's mark-up of the Small Business Drought Relief Act included the addition of three amendments to the legislation: an amendment by Senators Kerry (D-Mass.) and Bond (R-Mo.), Ranking Member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, that will permanently include drought to the definition of disaster, clarify that only small businesses affected be eligible for disaster loans (not homeowners), preserve the governor's role in declaring a drought, and requiring non-farm entities to substantially prove their economic injury due to drought; Senator Levin's (D-Mich.) amendment to include the term "below average water levels in the Great Lakes" to the definition of disaster; and an amendment by Senator Edwards (D-N.C.) and George Allen (R-Va.) to require SBA to act on disaster requests from a governor within thirty days -- aimed to prevent the SBA from slipping in the Department of Agriculture’s 7-8 month delays.

More than 30 states are currently experiencing severe drought conditions, resulting in devastating economical effects that reach beyond the agricultural community. Under the current Small Business Act, drought conditions are not listed as a "disaster circumstance" and are thus not covered by emergency assistance. The Small Business Drought Relief Act will close this loophole and help small businesses access low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration for business-related purposes, including the ability to pay bills and make payroll until business returns to normal.

The legislation is now headed for a vote before the full Senate -- expected very soon. The bill has received strong bi-partisan support and is co-sponsored by Senators Bond, Hollings (D-S.C.), Landrieu (D-La.), Baucus (D-Mont.), Bingaman (D-N.M.), Daschle (D-S.D.), Johnson (D-S.D.), Edwards, Carnahan (D-Mo.), Enzi (R-Wy.), Lieberman (D-Conn.), Harkin (D-Iowa), Ensign (R-Nev.), Reid (D-Nev.), Helms (R-N.C.), Allen, and Bennett (R-Utah).