WASHINGTON – Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) today criticized the Bush Administration for failing to support the inclusion of a critical assistance package for small businesses hurt by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the final version of the appropriations bill that funds the Small Business Administration (SBA). The Senate previously voted 96-0 to include the package, co-authored by Kerry.

“President Bush didn’t lift a finger to help the estimated 200,000 small businesses get this help they need in the wake of Hurricane Katrina,” said Kerry, top Democrat on the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. “The entrepreneurs in the Gulf Coast need contracts, they need business support, and most urgently they need loans. Yet, sixty-seven days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the SBA has approved just 593 of the 27,293 loan applications they received -- less than 2.5 percent. Unless this aid package is passed into law, it will take years for the SBA to provide this assistance. Small businesses, and the thousands they employ, cannot afford to wait any longer.”

Kerry thanked Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Representative Alan Mollohan (D-W.V.) for their efforts to keep the package in the final report, and vowed to continue his efforts with Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), chair of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship and co-author of the amendment, to get this legislation signed into law.

One of the most comprehensive pieces of Kerry's relief package would give small businesses across the country access to low-interest disaster loans to cope with the increased costs of heating oil, natural gas and gasoline. This would especially benefit farmers, truck drivers and others whose livelihood relies heavily on the price of gas.

In addition, the relief package would have provided small businesses in the Gulf Coast:

§ Bridge loans through the states to help businesses that are waiting for SBA loan approval begin rebuilding immediately;

§ A one-year deferral on the payments for SBA disaster loans with no interest accrual;

§ Access to 30 percent of all federal contracts and 40 percent of subcontracting dollars used in the recovery and relief effort;

§ Expanded Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) status, which gives small businesses in the area a preference when bidding on federal contracts;

§ Increased counseling and business assistance provided through the SBA’s entrepreneurial development centers, including Small Business Development Centers, SCORE, Microloan Technical Assistance, Women’s Business Centers, and Veterans Business Outreach Centers;

§ Greater opportunities for small construction companies to receive SBA bonding assistance, which is a type of financial loss insurance on the contract; and

§ The ability to refinance existing disaster loans and existing business debt with low-interest disaster loans.

Also sponsoring the amendment were Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), David Vitter (R-La.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Jon Corzine (D-N.J.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), and Jim Talent (R-Mo.).