To the Editor:
I recently visited hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. Words cannot describe the devastation Hurricanes Katrina and Rita brought to the area. But, let me try.
Sixteen parishes (counties) surrounding New Orleans were devastated by the storms. Nearly 250,000 local residents were displaced from the area to locations throughout the United States. Over 200,000 homes were destroyed and another 45,000 experienced severe damage and now require extensive reconstruction. Of the 190,000 small businesses in Louisiana, about 81,000 are eligible for federal assistance. These hurricanes created a declared disaster area extending 96,000 square miles, a geographic footprint the size of Great Britain.
As I traveled through New Orleans and the surrounding areas with U.S. Small Business Administration senior management, in town to determine how best to help, we were all struck by the strength of character and sheer will demonstrated by these remarkable people in the face of tragedy. Their concernâ¢ That the rest of America might forget them, might get swept up in the next international incident or national news item. We must not let our neighbors down.
Now that immediate life-sustaining needs have mostly been met, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and. rebuild the Gulf Coast. In an unprecedented manner, the SBA has mobilized its disaster assistance effort to help with the long-term recovery of the residents and business owners affected by the storms. The SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance has grown from 880 before Katrina struck to over 4,000 personnel dedicated to providing assistance through our low-interest, government-backed disaster recovery lean programs available to homeowners, renters and businesses in the disaster area. To date, over $530 million in disaster loans have been made as a result of the hurricanes.
The SBA is also working diligently to operate as efficiently as possible so we lean respond quickly to those who have looked to us for help. We’ve simplified documentation requirements and we’re expediting business disaster loans under $100,000. We’ve even asked the business lending community to volunteer to help process business disaster loans through our “Give a Lending Hand” initiative. Also, in an effort to quickly put cash in the hands of small businesses in the affected area, we just announced the introduction of the GO Loan Program, which processes loan applications in 24 hours.
Rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region will continue to be a massive undertaking. The SBA is working with federal agencies, state and local governments and the private sector to make sure small businesses, particularly those in the region, play a role in the reconstruction effort. We are also helping to identify contracting opportunities for small businesses. For example, we’re teaming up with FEMA to award 15 contracts up to $100 million each to small, local and minority-owned businesses for Katrina recovery projects.
The SBA is committed to help all of those impacted by this terrible disaster and we will stay on the job until it is complete. Our hope is that once we see the collective results of everyone engaged in the recovery and reconstruction efforts, we will look back with pride and satisfaction as the region comes back as strong as ever.
To learn more about the SBA’s disaster assistance program, please visit www.sba.gov.
Carl B. Knoblock
U.S. Small Business Administration
Pittsburgh District Office