BOSTON - Senators John Kerry and Edward Kennedy, along with Congressman Richard Neal today urged the Small Business Administration to move quickly in issuing a disaster declaration for those affected by the eight-alarm fire that ravaged an Uxbridge Mill complex that house 65 Massachusetts businesses. A disaster declaration would automatically allow business owners to apply for low-interest disaster loans. Kerry, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, is also working to pass legislation that will improve the disaster loan program by getting aid to devastated businesses and homeowners more quickly

“The destruction caused by this fire is absolutely devastating, and because of the heroic work of firefighters from dozens of local communities, we can thank God that no one was seriously physically injured,” said Senator John Kerry, who visited the site yesterday and spent time talking with firefighters. “Massachusetts has rebuilt after disasters in the past, and we will do so again. But we must not let red tape and delay stand in the way of getting assistance into the hands of businesses that need to rebuild immediately. I want everyone who was affected to know that they are not alone. My colleagues and I will do everything within our power to help them rebuild their businesses and get back on their feet.”

"The fire at Uxbridge Mill is devastating to the local community and to all of Massachusetts. I strongly urge the Small Business Administration to provide much needed relief to enable businesses to rebuild and reopen their doors," said Senator Kennedy.

"The fire in Uxbridge on Saturday that destroyed the Bernat Mill was a sad and unfortunate tragedy. I will work closely with local, state and federal officials to make sure that the town and the displaced businesses receive the appropriate aid and assistance," said Congressman Richard E. Neal.

Chairman Kerry’s Small Business Disaster Response and Loan Improvements Act would establish a Private Disaster Loan program that allows banks to make loans directly to victims with an 85 percent government guarantee; create a new expedited disaster assistance business loan program to provide short-term relief to businesses while they await other federal assistance or insurance payments; create a new presidential declaration of "Catastrophic National Disaster," which will allow the SBA to issue nationwide economic injury disaster loans to small businesses affected by a large-scale disaster; provide key tools for processing disaster loan applications more quickly, such as working with qualified private contractors to process the loans and requiring the SBA to report to Congress on how the application process can be improved; and increase the maximum size of a disaster loan from $1.5 million to $2 million and allow non-profit groups to be eligible for disaster loans..

The text of the letter is as follows:

July 23, 2007

The Honorable Steven Preston
U.S. Small Business Administration
409 Third Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20416

Dear Administrator Preston:

Early Saturday morning, an eight-alarm fire engulfed the Bernat Mill Complex in the town of Uxbridge, Massachusetts. Preliminary damage reports indicate that 135 homes and small businesses were damaged or destroyed before firefighters from 45 communities were able to control the blaze.

This terrible tragedy has upended an entire community. Built in 1820, the Bernat Mill has served the town of Uxbridge for nearly two centuries as a dependable source of economic stability. During World War II, the Mill was used to make fabric for army uniforms. Until Saturday’s fire, the Mill housed the dreams and aspirations of some of Massachusetts’ most creative entrepreneurs. Now, these small business owners find their world turned upside-down, and every step needs to be taken to ensure that they receive the help they need to get back on their feet.

We are appreciative of the efforts made by Governor Patrick to certify this tragedy as a physical disaster for the purposes of authorizing federally-administered low interest disaster loans to the victims of the fire. We encourage you to do everything in your power to provide low interest loans through SBA’s disaster assistance program, and to do so as quickly as possible. The victims of the Bernat Mill Complex fire deserve nothing less than a swift and effective response from the federal agency responsible for providing disaster assistance to small business owners. We pledge you our support in doing whatever it will take to ensure that the businesses destroyed Saturday morning are given every opportunity to rebuild and thrive.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us or a member of our staffs. We look forward to working with you and with your staff to ensure a speedy recovery for the business owners impacted by Saturday’s tragedy.


John F. Kerry

Edward M. Kennedy

Richard Neal