WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Late last night Congress passed Senator John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) bipartisan Small Business Drought Relief Act, which will ensure all small businesses damaged by drought have access to low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Kerry’s legislation is cosponsored by Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), and has received widespread support among Governors and small businesses. The passage of the bill today marks the successful end of Kerry’s three-year legislative battle to expand drought relief.

"After three years, we were finally able to cut through the red tape to get these small businesses the help they deserve. Sixteen states currently have drought disaster declarations. Now, small businesses across the country won't have to struggle against an unresponsive bureaucracy. Every small business owner hurt by a drought -- whether it's fishing guides, bait and tackle shops, or anything else -- will have a chance to get loans to rebuild their businesses and their livelihoods," Kerry said.

The Small Business Drought Relief Act will assist the small businesses in states with drought declarations by giving them access to loans for business-related purposes, including for paying bills and making payroll until business returns to normal. The bill closes the loophole that enabled the SBA to deny certain small businesses access to disaster loans because their income was not tied to farming or agriculture.

Currently, the SBA has drought declarations in 16 states: Wisconsin, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Oklahoma, Illinois, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Kansas.

The Senate voted to include the Kerry bill as an amendment to the Department of Defense (DOD) authorization bill, which passed the Senate in November by a vote of 98-0. Last night, the report on the DOD authorization conference passed the Senate by a voice vote. Next, President Bush must sign the bill into law.