Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, drought continues to be a serious problem for many States in this country, and I rise to re-introduce legislation to help small businesses that need disaster assistance but can't get it through the Small Business Administration's disaster loan program.

You see, the SBA doesn't treat all drought victims the same. The Agency only helps those small businesses whose income is tied to farming and agriculture. However, farmers and ranchers are not the only small business owners whose livelihoods are at risk when drought hits their communities. The impact can be just as devastating to the owners of rafting businesses, marinas, and bait and tackle shops. Sadly, these small businesses cannot get help through the SBA's disaster loan program because of something taxpayers hate about government--buraucracy.

The SBA denies these businesses access to disaster loans because its lawyers say drought is not a sudden event and therefore it is not a disaster by definition. However, contrary to the Agency's position that drought is not a disaster, in July of 2002, when this Act was originally introduced, the SBA had in effect drought disaster declarations in 36 States. As of July 2005, 11 States remain declared drought disasters and 19 States are suffering from severe to extreme drought conditions. Adding insult to injury, in those States where the Agency declares drought disaster, it limits assistance to only farm-related small businesses. Take, for instance, South Carolina. A couple of years ago that entire State had been declared a disaster by the SBA, but the Administration would not help all drought victims. Let met read to you from the declaration:

Small businesses located in all 46 counties may apply for economic injury disaster loan assistance through the SBA. These are working capital loans to help the business continue to meet its obligations until the business returns to normal conditions. ..... Only small, non-farm agriculture dependent and small agricultural cooperative are eligible to apply for assistance. Nurseries are also eligible for economic injury caused by drought conditions.

The SBA has the authority to help all small businesses hurt by drought in declared disaster areas, but the Agency won't do it. For years the Agency has been applying the law unfairly, helping some and not others, and it is out of compliance with the law. The Small Business Drought Relief Act of 2005 would force SBA to comply with existing law, restoring fairness to an unfair system, and get help to small business drought victims that need it.

Time is of the essence for drought victims, and I am hopeful that Congress will consider passing this legislation soon. This Act has been thoroughly reviewed, passing the committee of jurisdiction three times and the Senate twice, with supporters numbering up to 25, from both sides of the aisle. In addition to approval by the committee of jurisdiction, OMB approved virtually identical legislation in 2003. The bill I am introducing today includes those changes we worked out with the Administration, and I see no reason for delay.

I thank Senators SNOWE and BOND, our current and past chairs, both of whom have been supportive of this legislation each time it was introduced and passed.