WASHINGTON – United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., today introduced a comprehensive legislative package to help small businesses in the Gulf Coast recover from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The storms impacted 125,000 small and medium-sized businesses Gulfwide, and in Louisiana alone, more than 18,000 businesses were totally destroyed.

"This legislative package is a targeted response to what I’ve been hearing from our small businesses." Sen. Landrieu said. "There is ongoing need a year and half after the storms.

"Affected small businesses endured the two worst hurricanes in American history, and the federal government has an important role in their recovery. This package helps our tourism industry, provides small business grants, makes SBA loans more flexible, and extends tax incentives for investment in the Go Zone. Together these bills provide commonsense solutions so that our businesses can recover and our economy can thrive."

The Gulf Coast Back to Business Act

The bill, cosponsored by Sens. Trent Lott, R-Miss, Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., authorizes $100 million in grants for business affected by the storms. Of the total, $75 million is authorized for Louisiana and $25 million for Mississippi.

The bill allows businesses and homeowners with Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loans to defer payment for one year. It also allows the SBA to immediately disburse $35,000 -- up from $10,000 -- on an approved loan without requiring additional collateral.

The legislation further helps Gulf Coast small businesses in the disaster zone compete for federal contracts by designating them as part of the Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) for two to three years, at the discretion of the SBA Administrator.

"This legislation will give our small businesses access to much needed cash through grants and help with existing loans, and it will better position them to compete for federal contracts," Sen. Landrieu said. "With this assistance, our businesses will be able to reopen and fully resume operations."

"Senator Landrieu’s tireless leadership on behalf of Gulf Coast hurricane victims is not only key to the region's recovery, but to restoring its former glory as a tourist destination," Sen. Kerry said. "Washington's work to rebuild the Gulf Coast is still not done. I'm proud to cosponsor this legislation with Senator Landrieu today because it will give businesses the resources they need to create jobs and contribute to the Gulf Coast's economic growth."

"I am proud to join Senator Landrieu as an original co-sponsor of the Gulf Coast Back to Business Act," Sen. Lieberman said. "Almost half of all businesses that shut down temporarily after a natural disaster never reopen their doors. The widespread devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita affected more than 125,000 small businesses along the Gulf Coast. This bill provides much-needed assistance to small businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi through grants and extended loan deferments. Available funds will enable small business owners to pay employees, buy merchandise, and perform repairs. Small businesses are the backbone of the Gulf Coast, and this legislation will go a long way in reinvigorating a critical sector of the region's economy."

Helping Our States through Tourism Act (HOST Act)

The HOST Act will boost Gulf Coast travel and tourism, an economic mainstay for the area. The legislation includes $130 million for Louisiana and $45 million for Mississippi for tourism marketing. It allows the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide businesses with Economic Injury Disaster Loans because of the area's tourism slowdown – a direct result of Katrina and Rita.

It also establishes a $2.5 million fund for government agencies to hold conventions and other events in Katrina and Rita affected areas.

"Tourism was Louisiana's second largest industry before the storms and is vital to our recovery today," Sen. Landrieu said. "This bill gives the industry the tools it needs to recover."

The Work, Hope and Opportunity for the Disaster Area Today Act

This tax package is designed to help the struggling small businesses in the most heavily damaged areas of the disaster zone.

It gives small businesses a one-year tax credit of up to $15,000 of wages paid, and it increases from 50 percent to 100 percent the income tax deduction for business and entertainment expenses in the GO Zone.

The bill extends certain Gulf Opportunity (GO) Zone tax incentives, which were passed in 2005 and have allowed hundreds of businesses to invest in areas impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It includes a two-year extension (until 2009) of the $200,000 deduction that GO Zone businesses can take for property costs and a one-year extension of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) designation for Katrina and Rita employees. The WOTC provides a tax credit to businesses who hire employees in certain groups.

It also provides restaurants and retailers in the GO Zone with more time to take advantage of tax incentives for facility improvements.

"These tax incentives for redevelopment in the GO Zone are essential to our economic recovery and rebuilding our communities," Sen. Landrieu said.