S. 318. A bill to provide emergency assistance to nonfarm-related small business concerns that have suffered substantial economic harm from drought; to the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
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 businesses 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, bureaucracy.
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, as of July 16, 2002, the day this legislation was introduced last year, the SBA had in effect drought disaster declarations in 36 States. And adding insult to injury, in those States where the Agency declared drought disasters, it limited assistance to only farm-related small businesses.
My friends, 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 2003 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.
This bill deserves quick consideration. Time is of the essence for drought victims. This legislation has been through a thorough review, and there is no reason to duplicate our efforts. The Committee considered virtually identical legislation last year and voted unanimously to pass it. In addition to approval by the committee of jurisdiction, OMB approved identical legislation last year. The bill I am introducing today includes those changes we worked out with the Administration, and I see no reason to delay passage.
Senator BOND has been a real champion on this issue, and I thank him. I look forward to having a similar partnership with Senator SNOWE. I thank all my colleagues who are cosponsors, Senators BOND, LANDRIEU, EDWARDS, JOHNSON, BINGAMAN, LEVIN, BAUCUS, DASCHLE, HOLLINGS, LIEBERMAN, WARNER, CRAPO, HARKIN, and REID.
I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill, and letters of support from governors who advocated prompt passage of this legislation last year, be printed in the RECORD.