Saturday, August 04, 2007

Bipartisan Group of Senators Praise Passage of Disaster Reform Bill

Senators John Kerry [D-Mass.], Olympia Snowe [R-Maine], Mary Landrieu [D-La.], David Vitter [R-La.], and Bill Nelson [D-Fl., pictured] praised the Senate’s unanimous passage last night of a critical disaster loan bill that will improve assistance to business owners and homeowners after a disaster. The legislation’s swift movement comes as the two-year anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma approaches.

“We’ve passed this critical disaster aid legislation, recognizing that there are Gulf Coast residents who are still seeking to recover nearly two years later," said Kerry, chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

“We made these changes to help future disaster victims – whether from floods or fire in my home state of Massachusetts, or the Katrina disasters of tomorrow," Kerry added. "I thank all of my colleagues for working together in a bipartisan way to address concerns and move this important bill.”

“This legislation provides vital resources to the SBA to enable it to respond effectively and swiftly to future disasters,” said Sen. Snowe. “The SBA's slow response to Hurricane Katrina makes plain the need for the SBA to be provided with additional disaster-response tools. A product of compromise, this bill is forward-looking, and I urge Congress to move ahead quickly with final passage.”

“One of the important lessons of Katrina and Rita is that we need the Small Business Administration [SBA] to be nimble, effective and timely in disbursing loans following a disaster," Sen. Landrieu explained. "The Senate’s passage of this bipartisan disaster loan bill is a huge step forward for the SBA’s disaster-recovery reform. It will greatly improve the loan process for business owners and homeowners, ensuring that essential recovery dollars quickly move into the hands of disaster victims."

Vitter agreed. “Small businesses are a vital part of Louisiana’s economy, and after the hurricanes of 2005, small businesses suffered greatly,” he noted. “This legislation will help make SBA better prepared for the next disaster. It addresses some of the problems that we had with SBA after those hurricanes, and will improve how quickly disaster victims receive their loans.”

“We're trying to get the government to speed up assistance to disaster victims,” said Sen. Nelson, whose home state of Florida is in the midst of the 2007 hurricane season. “We can't afford to have another mess like the one we experienced after Hurricane Katrina.”

The Small Business Disaster Response and Loan Improvements Act of 2007 [S. 163]:

* Establishes a Private Disaster Loan program to be used in the aftermath of catastrophic disasters, allowing banks to make loans directly to victims with an 85 percent government guarantee;

* Creates a new, expedited disaster-assistance business loan program to provide short-term relief to businesses damaged or destroyed in catastrophic disasters while they await other federal assistance or insurance payments;

* Creates a new presidential declaration of “Catastrophic National Disaster,” which will allow the SBA to issue nationwide economic-injury disaster loans to small businesses affected by a large-scale disaster;

* Provides key tools for processing disaster loan applications more quickly -- such as working with qualified private contractors -- to process the loans, and requiring the SBA to report to Congress on how the application process can be improved; and

* Increases the maximum size of a disaster loan from $1.5 million to $2 million, and allows non-profit groups to be eligible for disaster loans.

Sources: Library of Congress, National Hurricane Center, Peace Corps Online [photo], U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship

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