WASHINGTON – Today Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) chaired a hearing before the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship to examine the economic consequences and potential solutions for small businesses in Massachusetts and across the country suffering from record-high gas prices. Following the hearing, Kerry will introduce legislation, cosponsored by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), to establish a fuel emergency program for small firms struggling to cope with rising gas costs. Kerry will also offer the provisions as an amendment to the energy bill currently being debated in the Senate.

The hearing featured testimony from Sal Lupoli, President and CEO of Sal's Pizza headquartered in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The owner of 30 pizza stores with more than 300 employees spanning northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, Lupoli spoke to the negative affect rising gas prices have on his business and the food distribution industry in general.

"Sal has built a successful small business that relies on fuel to get pizzas to his customers," said Kerry. "But last month's record-setting gas prices packed an economic punch that will force Sal and other small businesses across the Bay State to pass on the costs to consumers or absorb the loss. In Massachusetts, we're not far behind the national average with gas prices above $3 a gallon. We can't be lulled into a false sense of security that gas prices are coming down long term – they're not. My legislation to create a grant program for small firms facing economic hardships is one solution Congress can pass now to help keep America's small businesses competitive."

"Rising fuel costs have a direct impact on my means of delivery for my product, but also on my employees and customers," said Mr. Lupoli. "Many of my employees have low to modest means and are unable to afford gasoline for their cars and face a day or days out of work as a result. A family that I would generally see on a weekly basis for a Friday night Pizza is now in my store twice a month. This year we will spend over $200,000 on fuel to run our business, and while that will come out of our bottom line, it means we won't be able to expand and create more jobs in the Merrimack Valley."

The Committee also heard testimony by Frederick W. Smith, Chairman, President and CEO of Federal Express, which got its start as a small business. Smith advocated for strong bipartisan energy security legislation that would improve corporate average fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards. Additionally, the Energy Information Administration testified that high gas prices are here to stay. Guy Caruso, head of the independent agency, said average gas prices are expected to remain at $3.05 for the summer – 21 cents higher than last summer, with another forecasted peak in August.

Kerry's bill, the Small Business Emergency Fuel Assistance Act, will be offered as an amendment to H.R. 6, the CLEAN Energy Act. The proposal would create a grant program within the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Agency that authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to issue grants to states to provide assistance for fuel-dependent small businesses in the wake of a Presidential fuel emergency declaration. Small firms and farms demonstrating need and a plan toward becoming more energy efficient would be eligible for these grants.