WASHINGTON -- With estimates that more than 400,000 jobs will be lost as a result of Hurricane Katrina, Senator John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) today unveiled a package of emergency economic aid and federal assistance for small businesses and others reeling from the destruction in the Gulf Coast.

“It is clear that our government failed the people of the Gulf Coast. In time, those responsible will be held accountable for what has gone right and what has gone wrong. Right now, we need to make up for lost time and help any way we can, and that means targeting the fastest relief possible,” said Senator Kerry. “Every small business we can help will help a hard-working family start to put the pieces of their lives back together. We should help small businesses rebuild themselves and these communities.”

Senator Kerry is the Ranking Member of the Senate Small Business Committee. He will offer this small business-related relief package today with his colleague Mary Landrieu (D-La.) as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill currently pending in the Senate. A vote on the measure is expected next week. Kerry authored a similar assistance package to small businesses recovering in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

One of the most far-reaching pieces of the Kerry relief package will give small businesses across the country access to low-interest disaster loans to cope with the increased costs of oil and gas. This will especially benefit farmers, truck drivers and others whose livelihood relies heavily on the price of gas.

In addition, the Kerry relief package also provides small businesses in the Gulf Region:

· Access to short-term loans that will be rapidly approved to help businesses that are waiting for SBA loan approval begin rebuilding immediately

· A two-year assumption of payments and interest on loans provided through the Small Business Administration (SBA) for working capital and fixed asset loans, known as 7(a) and 504 loans, to help small businesses that are unable to make payments with their existing loans

· A two-year deferral on the interest and payments for SBA disaster loans

· Access to 30 percent of all federal contracts and 40 percent of subcontracting dollars

· Expanded Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) status, which gives small businesses in the area a preference when bidding on federal contracts

· Increased counseling and business assistance provided through the SBA’s entrepreneurial development centers, including Small Business Development Centers, SCORE, Women’s Business Centers, and Veterans Business Outreach Centers

· Greater opportunities for small construction companies to receive SBA bonding assistance, which is a type of financial loss insurance on a contract

· The ability to refinance existing disaster loans and existing business debt with low-interest disaster loans

Kerry is offering additional hurricane-response legislation, including:

Improve Coordination, Planning, and Execution of Disaster Plans: Senator Kerry is offering legislation to improve several steps, including formalizing the National Guard’s role in the homeland security mission, by creating a Standing Joint Task Force commanded by a National Guard officer responsible for coordinating preparedness and response between the national, state and local governments involved. Given the National Guard's unique responsibilities to both federal and state governments, it is well-positioned to coordinate the planning and execution of disaster contingencies whether caused by an act of nature or an act of terrorism. Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security currently lacks a deliberative planning process, like that used in the Department of Defense, which is essential for disaster response.

FEMA Regional Emergency Evacuation and Preparedness Centers: The response to Hurricane Katrina has revealed serious shortcomings in planning and infrastructure for disaster preparedness and relief. Thousands of displaced Americans are living in sports arenas and National Guard armories. Instead of relying on ad hoc solutions and improvisation, the federal government should establish regional facilities to help prepare the federal response and assist the citizens affected by disasters - whether natural or man-made. In the event of disaster, these facilities will provide temporary or, if necessary, long-term shelter for displaced persons. Medical supplies and facilities at each site can treat people in need of care. Functional spaces, including the capacity for plug-and-play data and communications networks will facilitate the provision of all types of disaster relief services.

Helping Deployed National Guard and Reserve Troops: Tens of thousands of troops have been called up for service in Afghanistan, Iraq and now the Gulf Coast. Many of these troops are in the National Guard and Reserves, and when they’re called to active duty, they and their employers struggle financially. Senator Kerry’s proposal would provide tax credits to small businesses employers of National Guard and Reserve members called up to help lessen the burden on small businesses, our troops and their families.

Help Youth Rebuild Their Communities: YouthBuild is a federal program that helps disadvantaged young people learn responsibility, leadership and a skill by working with their peers to build homes in their communities. YouthBuild is an ideal program to help the young people of the Gulf Coast, who will need employment and whose community has been severely damaged. Senator Kerry strongly believes the recovery effort in the Gulf Coast could be dramatically helped by an expansion of the YouthBuild program in the region, and his legislation expands the program as part of the long-term response and recovery effort.

Providing Housing as Part of Long-Term Recovery: Senator Kerry believes that the federal government should take an active role in the rebuilding of the thousands of homes and apartments destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Two housing production proposals he has authored are ideally designed to help those in the Gulf region who have lost their homes. First, the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act will create an affordable housing production program for those who most need assistance. Second, the Community Development Homeownership Tax Credit Act will encourage the construction and substantial rehabilitation of approximately 500,000 homes for low- and moderate-income families in economically distressed areas over the next 10 years. Both bills can provide critically needed housing and help the long-term recovery of the region.