SBA Hurricane Response Must Be Reformed

Because my Congressional district spans the destructive path of both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I have seen first-hand the need for an immediate response from the federal government during a catastrophic disaster.  I am frustrated with many aspects of the federal government's failures, both before and after these devastating storms.  One source of frustration is the Small Business Administration's poor response to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Small business owners in my district have virtually given up on the SBA due to the delay in receiving small business grant and loan assistance following the hurricanes.  The lack of communication from SBA employees has kept many of my constituents from even completing applications.  South Louisiana's economy continues to suffer as a result.

There are some commonsense solutions to these problems: Congress needs to make the laws and regulations that currently govern the SBA's disaster loan programs more flexible and adjust them to the current circumstances.  For example, in the resourceful, self-sufficient economy in South Louisiana, oftentimes the best and only mechanic or tow-boat operator for these shrimping vessels are the owners themselves or their family members and fellow shrimpers. However, following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the SBA did not allow payments to family members or fellow shrimpers for the expense of removing the vessels from dry land. The money the SBA loaned shrimpers for mechanical repair, hull repair, net repair, and acquiring the needed fuel and supplies for shrimping was all important, but it didn't do owners much good if they didn't have the money to also get their vessels back into the water.

Second, we need to stop penalizing business owners who receive both SBA grants and homeowner assistance grants.  Our homeowners need capital to rebuild their homes.  Forcing them to repay SBA loans with their homeowner assistance grants does not give them capital, it forces them to go elsewhere.

We need to work together now to address the SBA's programs and the entire Federal response to disaster.

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