WASHINGTON - The Senate today has passed legislation making small businesses affected by drought eligible for emergency financial assistance, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), the lead Democrat on the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, announced today. The Small Business Drought Relief Act of 2003, sponsored by Kerry, targets struggling businesses that have been denied access to disaster loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA). The legislation must now be voted on by the House of Representatives.

"I am relieved that after a tough battle in the Senate, this much needed assistance is now one step closer to reaching the men and women business owners who face a dry well of resources," said Kerry. "I urge the House to see the dire importance of this legislation and act quickly."

Despite the support of thousands of small business associations and the small business community, the legislation met fierce partisan opposition in the previous Congress. Kerry re-introduced the drought measure this February. In a statement on the Senate floor at introduction Kerry said, "We must close the loophole that prevents these businesses from receiving the same access to low-interest disaster loans that are available to farmers and ranchers - loans, not grants - to keep these businesses on their feet and open for business." Although water table levels are fortunately on the rise across the country, it is important to close this loophole for future drought conditions and ensure that small businesses do not again meet the same brick wall. Under the current Small Business Act, non-farm-related small businesses are covered by emergency assistance for a variety of disaster situations, but drought is not one of them. 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 paying their bills and making payroll until business returns to normal.