MAKING APPROPRIATIONS FOR SCIENCE, THE DEPARTMENTS OF STATE, JUSTICE, AND COMMERCE, AND RELATED AGENCIES FOR FISCAL YEAR 2006 CONTINUED -- (Senate - September 15, 2005)
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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, let me say quickly I thank my colleagues, and I thank Senators SNOWE and LANDRIEU and VITTER for their work on this amendment. I think the Senate has made a very important statement today about what can be done and what we need to do to respond immediately to the small business needs with respect to Katrina and people impacted across the country.
This amendment details virtually everything in the Kerry-Landrieu amendment, from disaster loan deferments to financial assistance for small businesses and farmers struggling to afford the high prices of gasoline, natural gas, and heating oil. It expands on assistance to small businesses that have SBA 504 loans for buildings or equipment, or for those who will need them. It includes agreed upon language to make sure the money is appropriated to carry out the assistance. And it retains a critical grant program to the states to get money into the hands of small businesses that need immediate access to capital to stay afloat until they get other more comprehensive loans or insurance reimbursements.
For all the good this amendment will do, I am disappointed that two very important provisions were not included. I am against taking out the funding for the Federal government's largest small business loan program, the 7(a) Loan Guarantee Program, that would reduce fees on borrowers and lenders. Even before the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and its impact on our economy, small businesses were struggling with higher insurance premiums, higher energy prices, and higher prices for capital because of rising interest rates. We should not be adding to their expenses by raising loan fees. As I said yesterday, according to a document from the Small Business Administration, since the Administration raised fees in that program, loans to Hispanics have declined by 14 percent. With Katrina causing problems well beyond the state lines of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Texas, those small businesses need relief too. We asked our colleagues, at the very least, to include language that would reduce fees if the SBA overcharges borrowers or lenders, or if there are excess appropriations. They would not agree. They also eliminated the provision that directed the SBA to assume payments for SBA 7(a) and 504 loans that victims had before the Hurricane but cannot now pay. To help these business owners make ends meet, and to avoid defaults or worse, it is my hope that these small businesses will make use of the provision we put in the amendment that allows them to refinance existing business debt with low-cost SBA disaster loans.
Hopefully, because this bill may well be tied up for a period of time, it may be possible to break this amendment out and add to it a couple of components that were not in it today.
We hope to do that. We obviously will work with both sides to do it in the same bipartisan fashion.
This morning Senator Landrieu met with some of the top members of the business community of New Orleans. They are very afraid for those small businesses that have to lease, contract, move, and they are afraid of losing for a long period of time, if not forever, the small business base of their community. What the Senate has done today is to address that need in a very realistic and helpful way. I thank my colleagues for doing so.
With that stated, my original amendment, which we now combined into this one, is no longer necessary. I ask unanimous consent it be withdrawn.