Mr. BARLETTA. Mr. Speaker, I rise to remember the one-year anniversary of the devastation communities in my district faced when Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee brought an epic 500-year flood to the Susquehanna River.
In September 2011, when the creeks and rivers first started rising, I immediately returned to Northeastern Pennsylvania to help my constituents. I witnessed firsthand the devastation and destruction caused by this historic flooding. Over the past year, I spent time surveying the damage to our communities, our homes, and our regional economy. I met with people who lost everything: their jobs as local businesses closed; their homes; and their prized possessions and treasured keepsakes, which were destroyed and gone forever. I met with small business owners who didn't know if they would be able to reopen their doors. I met with local officials who didn't know how their towns would afford to repair their streets and keep their police officers, firefighters, and emergency responders working extra hours.
Despite all of this devastation, the citizens of Pennsylvania's 11th District rose above their own needs, though great, and thought of others. I saw neighbors open their homes and wallets to care for flood victims. I met volunteers who spent their evenings and weekends cleaning up senior citizens' basements. I witnessed our community's citizens coming together with hope and determination to repair the destruction from the flood. Even with the enormous strength of our combined efforts, I realized that our Federal Government must provide a better response to natural disasters.
In Washington, I have been working to improve the assistance the Federal Government provides natural disaster victims. For the past year, I have aimed to lower the Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan interest rates for all Americans who have been the unfortunate victims of natural disasters. On September 23, 2011, I introduced H.R. 3042, the Disaster Loan Fairness Act of 2011. On August 2, 2012, I revised my original legislation and introduced H.R. 6296, the Disaster Loan Fairness Act of 2012. This measure allows for SBA loans at a discounted market-based interest rate for homeowners and small business owners who were hit by flooding or other natural disasters and in which the president has declared a major disaster. Critically, the interest rate can never be greater than 4 percent, which will make a tremendous difference to those seeking to rebuild their homes and restart their lives. Most importantly, this bill will restore American lives, save American businesses, and protect American jobs.
Mr. Speaker, over the past year, I have seen the very best of humanity in Northeastern Pennsylvania in these people who lost everything. I commend those citizens who have helped their family, friends, neighbors, and strangers in this time of need. Rest assured, I will never forget the devastation caused by the flooding after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, and I will continue to support improved federal natural disaster assistance.