Thank you Chair Snowe for calling this very important hearing today. I thank you and Senator Vitter for working with Senator Landrieu and me over the last two weeks to develop a comprehensive package of emergency assistance for small businesses devastated by Hurricane Katrina. I was very pleased we were able to find a compromise and pass it in the Senate, putting small businesses one step closer to help from the Federal government. While we all know that the Administration has asked us to provide more than $62 billion in assistance to the Gulf Coast, we have yet to provide any money to impacted small businesses.

I sincerely hope that the Administration will give its strong support to our package and work with Congress to go the final step, making this law so that small businesses can get the assistance they need. As we will likely hear from our small business witnesses this morning, small businesses in the Gulf region can’t wait for ideological and partisan battles -- they need help, and they needed it three weeks ago.

I want to say a special thanks and offer my deepest sympathies to our small business witnesses and their families who have come all the way up here to share their stories. You have been through so much over these past few weeks.

We’re here today to listen to your stories and to learn about how the Federal government is responding to your needs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. We’re here to learn more about how we can make your lives a little easier in this great time of need and how we can make sure small businesses like yours get up and running again.

I was recently down in Louisiana and I have seen first-hand the destruction and the chaos that has left a quarter of the small businesses in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi -- some 200,000 small businesses -- devastated. You may be one of the luckier ones and you still have a building, but how do you get there when you can’t go back or the roads are covered in debris? And how do you cope when you can’t reach your employees, the communications are down, and all your customers are gone anyway?

Even insurance isn’t the cure-all. Maybe you were fortunate enough to have it, but when will that come through, if it comes through? And will it cover both flood and wind damage? Perhaps you remembered to make a back-up of all your financial documents, but when you went to apply for a loan they told you it would still take months. For the small businesses in the Gulf region the list of troubles and concerns go on and on, and we'll hear more today. We cannot allow small businesses to be short-changed. They are too important to our economy and employment.

I am looking forward to hearing from Small Business Administrator Barreto specifically on what the Administration supports in the Small Business Katrina relief package amendment we passed last week and how the Administration will be helpful in enacting and funding it. In addition to Mr. Barreto’s comments on the package, I am looking forward to hearing more about the Gulf Opportunity Zone (GO Zone) and how it will help small business. Any stimulative relief that we provide to the Gulf Coast should be designed to provide immediate relief to small businesses.

Thank you. I look forward to your testimony.