One year ago, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee brought an epic 500-year flood to the Susquehanna River basin and other parts of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Our communities faced devastation unlike anything we've ever experienced.
Over the past year, I have 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 property; and their prized possessions and family 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, I saw neighbors open up their homes and wallets to care for the flood's victims. I met volunteers who spent their evenings and weekends cleaning up a senior citizen's basement. 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 U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan interest rates for all Americans who have been the 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 suffered losses caused by flooding or other natural disasters after 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. Additionally, the bill is retroactive, so those who received SBA recovery loans after a presidential disaster declaration since January 1, 2011, will have the interest rates of their loans lowered, and they will receive a rebate from the federal government. On September 19, 2012, the House passed my Disaster Loan Fairness Act with bipartisan support.It is my hope that the U.S. Senate will immediately consider this important legislation.
In addition to passing my bill in the House, I brought House Speaker John Boehner and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica to Northeastern Pennsylvania to see the flood devastation. I've worked with my colleagues to ensure that agencies providing assistance after a natural disaster, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the SBA, receive the necessary funding to provide critical support to victims. I have called for a comprehensive study of the entire Susquehanna River system, from New York to Maryland, to determine how the flood plain has changed over the past several decades and to determine how to provide effective flood protection moving forward. Additionally, my staff and I have helped more than 400 people resolve problems they experienced after last year's flood. My staff and I are happy to review any issue and reach out to FEMA or SBA on your behalf.
Rest assured, I will continue working with my colleagues to improve the assistance the federal government provides natural disaster victims. For specific information about resources available to flood victims, please visit the flood resources page located within the "Serving You" section of my Web site http://barletta.house.gov. If you have additional comments or questions on this or any other issue, please contact me at my Hazleton, Wilkes-Barre, Taylor, or Washington, D.C. offices.