WASHINGTON – Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) today pressed Administration officials to explain what steps they were taking to address the needs of small businesses affected by the Hurricanes along the Gulf Coast.

“The Gulf Coast can't recover and rebuild if Washington ignores the urgency of the challenge. Hurricane Katrina hit two months ago, but small businesses are still clamoring for assistance. The SBA is moving at a snail’s pace. The lumbering bureaucracy has approved less than 3 percent of the loan applications they’ve received. It’s painfully obvious that more needs to be done to help the small businesses in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and the thousands of people they employ,” said Kerry, top Democrat on the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Kerry’s comments came in response to testimony from witnesses at a Committee hearing on the Administration’s efforts to help small businesses devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Unlike the Committee’s hearing in September when Senators heard from several entrepreneurs located along the Gulf Coast explain the obstacles they were facing, today’s hearing featured several government officials: Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security; Hector Barreto, head of the Small Business Administration (SBA); Major General Ronald Johnson, Deputy Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Gregory Rothwell, Chief Procurement Officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; David Cooper, Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management at the General Accounting Office (GAO); and Walter Isaacson, Vice Chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority.

At the hearing, Kerry again expressed his disappointment and frustration with the SBA’s management of the disaster loan approval process and contracting oversight. Since September, Kerry has been working to enact legislative solutions to help small businesses along the Gulf Coast. Joined by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), chair of the Committee, Kerry introduced the Small Business Hurricane Relief and Reconstruction Act of 2005, S. 1807. Senate Republicans continue to block the passage of S. 1807, which is also co-sponsored by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.), David Vitter (R-La.), Jim Talent (R-Mo.), Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas).