WASHINGTON – United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., Friday introduced two bills to the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, on which she sits, that will better prepare the Small Business Administration (SBA) for future disasters and will assist small businesses in exporting products overseas. Both bills were cosponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark.

The Small Business Disaster Recovery Assistance Improvements Act of 2006 (S. 3664) will ensure that the SBA is better prepared for future disasters by giving the agency the ability to provide bridge loans or grants, in addition to expedited disaster loans, to major employers or businesses vital to recovery efforts. It also helps improve SBA loan disbursement during future disasters by raising the loan caps on disaster loans from $1.5 million to $2.25 million for business loans, from $40,000 to $50,000 on personal property homeowner loans, and from $200,000 to $250,000 on real property homeowner loans. The bill provides for increased SBA accountability and preparedness via monthly reports and increased disaster preparedness staff, among additional provisions.

“This bill will provide essential tools, including bridge loans, to make the SBA more proactive, flexible and efficient during future disasters,” Sen. Landrieu said. “It will ensure that the Small Business Administration is better prepared and more responsive to the needs of Louisiana and its hardworking small business owners in the event of another disaster. “

The Small Business International Trade Enhancements Act of 2006 (S. 3663) fills a void by creating a Gulf Coast International Finance Specialist to help small businesses impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita with export financing. Currently there is no individual dedicated to helping the economic recovery of the Gulf Coast, a critical commerce center. This Gulf Coast Finance Specialist would have responsibility for the impacted states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. In addition to assisting Gulf Coast businesses, the legislation also helps small businesses nationwide with their export and trade operations by setting a floor on the number of International Finance Specialists to stop continued downsizing of this vital program. At a cost of less than $2 million per year, this small group of specialists has obtained bank financing for more than $10 billion in U.S. exports since 1999. Yet, the current number of specialists currently sits at only 15 - the lowest level ever for the program.

The bill also makes the SBA International Trade Loan program more user-friendly for lenders and borrowers by raising the loan cap to $3.67 million and the guarantee amount to $2.75 million, while also bringing collateral and refinancing requirements in line with the regular SBA 7(a) program.

“This legislation will help our exporters in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast recover while giving small businesses nationwide more options when seeking export financing,” Sen. Landrieu said. “It is an important first step, not just for exporters on the Gulf Coast, but also for small businesses nationwide looking to open markets overseas for American products.”

“Gulf Coast small businesses shouldn’t be at the mercy of export assistance three states away. As an essential export hub that drives our nation’s economy, the Gulf Coast needs a small business trade specialist who can focus on their unique needs and work towards the region’s long-term recovery,” said Sen. Kerry, Ranking Member on the Small Business Committee. “I applaud Senator Landrieu for her leadership on this critical issue to help expand the Gulf Coast’s international competitive edge and look forward to working with her to make this proposal law.”

Senator Landrieu will be offering provisions from both bills as amendments during the Senate Small Business Committee SBA reauthorization markup Thursday, July 20.