The WaPo reported today that “despite Mardi Gras,” New Orleans is “still struggling.” That’s no small surprise to John Kerry who has fighting for the Bush administration to boost Gulf Coast recovery for months. Again, today John Kerry called on the Bush administration to step up to the plate and do what needs to be done to help small business owners and home owners:
“While it is positive to see the residents of Louisiana returning to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras, there is still more work to be done to help homeowners and business owners rebuild six months after Hurricane Katrina,” said Senator Kerry, Ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. “And for those still waiting for disaster loans, there’s very little to celebrate. There are more than 65,000 homeowners and business owners throughout the Gulf Coast still waiting to receive their disaster loans, so they too can be part of the area’s economic recovery. On top of this delay, the Administration’s mismanagement nearly resulted in the program shutting its doors twice this month. Investing in homeowners and business owners and awarding local firms federal contracts is what we must do to get Louisiana and the whole Gulf Coast back on the road to recovery.”
The Bush Administration’s Record on Disaster Loans in Louisiana
After six months, out of the more than 44,500 homeowners and business owners in Louisiana who have been approved for loans, more than 30,000 have yet to receive their loans. In dollars, that means that out of $3.2 billion that could be used to rebuild the local neighborhoods, only $213,000 has been disbursed. The Small Business Administration (SBA) needs to get the money out so that families can rebuild, businesses can reopen, employees can earn paychecks, and citizens of New Orleans can return to their neighborhoods.
· Congress has had to step in twice to prevent the disaster loan program from turning away hurricane victims. Congress first approved a $100 million reprogramming of funds at the beginning of February to keep the program solvent through the end of the month. Then, on February 17, 2006, the Senate approved a measure to provide $712 million for the disaster loan program – which will keep the program running through the end of April.
· In spite of these delays, the Administration rejected a proposal by Senators Kerry and Landrieu for the SBA to contract with experienced lenders to process loans. After the Agency’s lend-a-hand initiative and GO-Loans proved unworkable and insufficient to help improve the situation, the SBA announced just yesterday, February 27th – six months after the storm – that it would act on the Kerry-Landrieu proposal. The Administration could have been doing this months ago, saving thousands from unnecessary delays.
· The SBA has yet to respond to a request from Senators Landrieu and Kerry to direct government contracts to local and small businesses in the Gulf region for the inspection of homes and businesses damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita – despite the fact that the contracting period begins March 1, 2006.
· The Bush Administration refused to support bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senators Landrieu, Kerry, Snowe, and Vitter that outlined ways for the SBA to aid the economic recovery of the Gulf Coast. Five months from introduction, in spite of numerous appeals to the Administration and to Majority Leader Frist, the Small Business Hurricane Relief and Reconstruction Act remains blocked from consideration.
· As of February 22, 2006, the Bush Administration has only approved 145 GO-Loans. These loans were touted by SBA Administrator Hector Barreto as a quicker way to provide loan assistance to the Gulf Coast than through the disaster loan program. The Administration also used the GO-Loans as a justification for opposing and blocking a proposal from Senators Landrieu, Kerry, Snowe, and Vitter (which passed the full Senate 96-0 as part of a larger package) that would have made it possible for states to offer bridge loans until SBA disaster loans or insurance proceeds were disbursed.