Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I rise to thank my colleagues for voting last night in favor of the Small Business Drought Relief Act of 2003. Time is of the essence for disaster victims; small businesses across the country have been waiting 8 months for Congress to take action and force the Small Business Administration to comply with the law and open its disaster loan program to them. They are frustrated, and understandably so.
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 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. That number has grown to 48, demonstrating that problem has gotten worse and even more small businesses are in need.
As I have said time and again, 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.
I thank the Chair of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Senator Snowe, for all her work to ensure passage of this bill, as well as our many colleagues who are cosponsorsSenators BOND, LANDRIEU, EDWARDS, JOHNSON, BINGAMAN, LEVIN, BAUCUS, DASCHLE, HOLLINGS, LIEBERMAN, WARNER, CRAPO, HARKIN, REID, ALLEN, BENNETT, and ENZI.