Good morning. We're here today to mark-up S. 163, the Small Business Disaster Response and Loan Improvements Act of 2007. Nineteen months ago today, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, leaving behind scenes of immeasurable destruction and despair. What followed was a massive failure in government response, a failure which continues to this day.

And while we've all heard the stories about the FEMA trailers and about former FEMA Director "Brownie", about the streets filled with debris and about the absolute destruction of areas like the Lower 9th ward, there is another quiet tragedy that can be found in the empty store fronts of Bourbon Street and Magazine Street in New Orleans.

Thousands of small business owners were forced to close their doors in the months following Katrina because they couldn't get the help that was promised to them. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that 81,000 businesses were damaged or economically impacted in Katrina and Rita disaster zones. 18,000 were completely destroyed by the storms. The Times Picayune reported earlier this month that in St. Bernard's Parish in Louisiana, an area hit particularly hard by Katrina, only 370 of the 1,400 businesses operating in before the storm have reopened.

Over the past nineteen months, this Committee has worked to put together a bill that addresses the failures of the Small Business Administration in the months immediately following the 2005 hurricanes. Thanks to Senator Snowe's leadership on this issue, as well as to the tireless efforts of Senators Landrieu and Vitter on behalf of the people of Louisiana, we believe that the bill before us today represents a strong bipartisan consensus as to how this program can best serve victims in the wake of a disaster.

While the current Administrator has done an admirable job cleaning up the mess left by his predecessor, we believe that he requires additional tools to effectively respond in the event of another large scale disaster. These tools are included in this bill, and we hope that after nineteen months of blocking this bill from moving forward, the Administration will support this Committee's efforts to improve a broken system.

Highlights of the bill include: Catastrophic National Disaster for Nationwide disaster loans. The bill creates a new declaration of Catastrophic National Disaster to trigger nationwide economic injury loans, so that businesses affected by a large scale disaster will not be restricted from accessing disaster loans as a result of their geographic proximity to the disaster site.

Private Disaster Loans. The bill also creates a new private disaster loan program to allow banks to offer SBA-guaranteed disaster loans. Allowing the private sector to get involved in making disaster loans will expedite the process of getting capital to businesses when they need it—in the days immediately following a disaster.

Business Expedited Loan Program. Another way of expediting the process is created through a short term business loan program at SBA. This bill creates an expedited loan program to get capital in the hands of business owners quickly while they wait for long term assistance in the form of insurance payments or SBA disaster loans. Similar "bridge loan" programs in Florida have helped to save thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of jobs following hurricanes since 2004.

Energy Emergency Loans. Gas prices continue to fluctuate, and fuel dependent small businesses are struggling with the cost of energy. According to a National Small Business Association survey, 62 percent of respondents depend on deploying vehicles for delivery or customer transportation. These small business owners can not afford extraordinarily high spikes in the price of fuel. This bill provides relief to small business owners during times of above average energy price increases, authorizing energy disaster loans through the Small Business Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture to companies that depend on fuel.

Finally, I want to thank Administrator Preston for his commitment to work with our staffs to finally get this bill done. Victims of the 2005 Gulf Coast storms have waited nineteen months for Congress to pass legislation, and every time we have tried to get something done, the Administration has stood firmly in the way. Had these policies been in place in the wake of Katrina, I believe the state of the small business community in the Gulf Coast would be much improved compared to where it is today. Now, we are seeing predictions for an active storm schedule in 2007, and we need to make sure that these policies are in place in the event that another large scale disaster strikes.

I understand that several productive meetings produced the compromises that are contained in the substitute amendment I will be introducing in just a moment, and I sincerely hope that the Administrator will offer his full support toward getting this bill passed through the full Senate.

I'd like to turn to Ranking Member Snowe for her opening comments.