WASHINGTON -- With estimates of more than 400,000 jobs lost and 200,000 small business hurt by Hurricane Katrina, the Senate today passed a package of emergency economic aid and federal assistance for small businesses and others reeling from the destruction in the Gulf Coast.

The bipartisan amendment was offered today by Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), and David Vitter (R-La). It was authored by Kerry, who authored a similar assistance package for small businesses recovering in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Kerry is the Ranking Member of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

"When I was in Louisiana earlier this week, so many people said to me -- 'I want to work, I want to rebuild my home and my life, but I have no place to go.' The Gulf Coast needs so much, and this is a common-sense and very direct way to help people get their jobs and their dignity back," said Kerry. "Small businesses are at the heart of the Gulf Coast's economy and will be crucial to the rebuilding effort, so they are the best place to start when it comes to jump-starting the regional economy."

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

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

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

• A one-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 used in the recovery and relief effort

• 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, Microloan Technical Assistance, 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 the contract

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

The original small business relief package was introduced yesterday by Senators Kerry and Landrieu as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill (S.2862) currently pending in the Senate.

The amendment is also supported by Sens. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Jon S. Corzine (D-N.J.), and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).