WASHINGTON, D.C. –Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), incoming Chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), incoming Ranking Member, made improving the SBA’s Disaster Assistance program a top priority of the Committee by introducing legislation yesterday to improve this critical disaster response program. Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and David Vitter (R-La.), both members of the Committee, are leading cosponsors of the Small Business Disaster Response and Loan Improvements Act of 2007 (S. 163), which builds on previous proposals to provide immediate and meaningful relief to disaster victims.

“Washington can do better to help small businesses and homeowners recover after a disaster – a lesson we learned all too well after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But those lessons are meaningless unless we enact this common sense, bipartisan proposal that addresses the failures of the Disaster Loan Program and provides the critical tools for helping future disaster victims immediately, instead of months down the line,” said Kerry.

“I am committed to ensuring small businesses and homeowners have the tools they need to recover from devastating disasters. It is essential that victims of future disasters have access to the resources they need to restore their lives, their businesses, and their dreams. While the Congress considers this legislation, we must remember the lessons learned in the wake of the 2005 Hurricanes and ensure the determination of devastated communities to rebuild is met with the resources and assistance they need,” said Snowe.

“Our business owners have told us loud and clear that we should not only make it a priority to address the pressing needs on the ground, but we need to also make sure SBA is better prepared, more efficient and more responsive the next time a disaster strikes,” said Landrieu. “This bill makes significant strides in the right direction. It implements key reforms in the way SBA responds to disasters. I commend my fellow members of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee for continuing to work closely with me to make sure the SBA’s failures following hurricanes Katrina and Rita are not repeated.”

“As small businesses in Louisiana are still recovering from the aftermath of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, these loan improvements will provide considerable assistance as we face future disasters,” said Vitter. “These enhancements and reforms in the disaster loan program will provide much-needed relief to individual recovery efforts as we continue to move forward and hope for more efficient, effective assistance from the SBA in the future,” said Vitter. The Small Business Disaster Response and Loan Improvements Act of 2007 would:

  • Establish a Private Disaster Loan (PDL) program that allows banks to make loans directly to victims after meeting SBA criteria. The SBA will provide an 85 percent guarantee for these loans;
  • Require the SBA to draft rules within one year that would create a new “expedited disaster assistance business loan program.” These short-term loans would have low interest rates similar to regular disaster loans. This would provide businesses with short-term assistance while they await other forms of federal assistance or insurance payouts following future disasters. It specifically addresses one of the major issues following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita – a lack of access to immediate capital to keep businesses afloat;
  • 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;
  • Allow the SBA to provide relief to fuel-dependent small businesses when energy prices increase at extraordinarily high rates.
  • Provide key tools for processing disaster loan applications more quickly by authorizing the SBA to enter into agreements with qualified private contractors to process disaster loans and requiring the SBA to analyze and report to Congress on how the disaster loan application process can be improved; and
  • Increase the maximum size of a Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan from $1.5 million to $5 million and allow non-profit groups to be eligible for disaster loans;
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