WASHINGTON - The United States Senate late last night passed a bill that would assist small businesses whose owner, manager or key employee is a military reservist called to active duty. The Military Reservists Small Business Relief Act of 1999, introduced by Senator John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) as the Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on Small Business, passed the Senate unanimously.

"This legislation means a lot not only to the 6,400 men and women who have been called to active duty over the last several weeks, but also to those veteran reservists who served in past conflicts and came home to diminished or devastated businesses," said Kerry. "The passage of this bill by the Senate demonstrates a real commitment to the relief and protection of these reservists."

Senator Kerry's bill would offer small businessmen and women three types of assistance:

First, the bill authorizes a deferral of loan repayments on any direct loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA), including disaster loans. For guaranteed loans, the SBA would encourage and facilitate ways for lenders (intermediaries) to defer or reduce loan repayments for qualified reservists.

Second, the bill establishes a low-interest economic injury loan program to be administered by SBA through its disaster loan program. These loans would be available to provide interim operating capital to a small business when the departure of a miliary reservist to active duty causes economic harm. (Reservists may apply for a loan repayment deferral or an economic injury loan from the date that the military reservist is ordered to active duty until 180 days after release from active duty.)

Finally, the bill directs SBA and all of its private sector partners, such as the Small Business Development Centers, to make every effort to reach out to those businesses affected by call up of military reservists to active duty. Those left behind to run the business while the military reservist is serving overseas may be inexperienced in running the business and may need quick access to management and marketing counseling.

Final passage of the bill is pending a House passage of the legislation. The House version of the bill is sponsored by Representative Jim Talent (R-MO), the Chairman of the House Small Business Committee.