Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, tonight the President will deliver his fifth State of the Union address. It is expected that he will, in that address, talk about his plan to expand the ownership of businesses, as he did in his Inaugural Address. As a long-time member of the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, I hope that the Administration will also tend to the needs of small businesses that already exist, in particular those struggling to make ends meet with the record high cost of heating fuels. It could be done very easily by making those small businesses eligible to apply for low-cost disaster loans through the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. And by making small farms and agricultural businesses eligible for loans through a similar loan program at the Department of Agriculture.

There has been a bi-partisan push for this assistance in Congress twice in the past few years, most recently in November during the consideration of the mega funding bill, the FY2005 Omnibus Appropriations Conference Report. It makes no sense that out of 3,000 pages of legislation and almost $400 billion in spending, the White House and the Republican leadership, opposing members in their own party, refused to help the little guy. While it would have been most helpful to these businesses – from small heating oil dealers to small manufacturers – to enact the legislation in November when the prices were at an all-time high, we can still be helpful now.

In that spirit, together with Senator Reed and 17 of my colleagues, I am re-introducing the Small Business and Farm Energy Emergency Relief Act. I thank Senators Reed, Dodd, Bingaman, Kohl, Jeffords, Cantwell, Johnson, Pryor, Leahy, Levin, Schumer, Lieberman, Clinton, Harkin, Kennedy, Bayh and Obama. In the past, this assistance has been supported by many Republicans, and I hope they will again cosponsor the legislation. I have reached out to them in hopes that they will once again work in a bi-partisan way to help our small businesses. I know the heating oil issue is important to Senator Snowe, my colleague and Chairman of the Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, and I look forward to working with her. I am hopeful that she will cosponsor this bill and agree to take action on it in Committee as soon as possible.

Mr. President, we have built a very clear record over the years on how this legislation would work and why it is needed. Let me take a few minutes to summarize those conclusions. The Small Business and Farm Energy Emergency Relief Act of 2005 would provide emergency relief, through affordable, low-interest SBA and USDA Disaster loans, to small businesses adversely affected by, or likely to be adversely affected by, significant increases in the prices of four heating fuels -- heating oil, propane, kerosene, and natural gas. This would be helpful, because for those businesses in danger of or already suffering from significant economic injury caused by crippling increases in the costs of heating fuel, they need access to capital to mitigate or avoid serious losses. However, commercial lenders typically won't make loans to these small businesses because they often don't have the increased cash flow to demonstrate the ability to repay the loan.

Economic injury disaster loans give affected small businesses necessary working capital until normal operations resume, or until they can restructure or change the business to address the market changes. These are direct loans, made through the SBA, with interest rates of 4 percent or less. The SBA tailors the repayment of each economic injury disaster loan to each borrower’s financial capability, enabling them to avoid the robbing Peter to pay Paul syndrome, as they juggle bills.

In practical terms, SBA considers economic injury to be when a small business is unable, or likely to be unable, to meet its obligations as they mature or to pay its ordinary and necessary operating expenses. To be eligible to apply for an economic injury loan,

• you must be a small business that has been the victim of some kind of disaster,

• you must have used all reasonably available funds,

• and you must be unable to obtain credit elsewhere.

Under this program, the disaster must be declared by the President, the SBA Administrator, or a governor at the discretion of the Administrator. Small businesses will have nine months to apply from October 1, 2004 or, for future disasters, from the day a disaster is declared.

This bill differs from the legislation we put forward in 2001 in that it uses a different trigger to define a disaster. For this legislation, Senator Reed worked closely with the Department of Energy to identify what would be considered extreme price jumps in the heating fuels of heating oil, natural gas, and propane. Therefore, the assistance under this bill would become available when the price jumps 40 percent when compared to the same period for the two previous years and absorbing the cost becomes nearly impossible.

Mr. President, I again ask for my colleagues to get behind this bill and make it law as soon as possible. I ask unanimous consent that my statement, a copy of a bi-partisan letter of support, a copy of the cosponsors from the 107th Congress, and a copy of the bill be printed in the Record.