WASHINGTON – Maria Contreras-Sweet, the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), issued the following statement before a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship examining the federal response to recent floods in Louisiana.
“The SBA’s commitment to provide disaster assistance to our fellow citizens in their greatest hour of need is one of our most important duties. I have made it my priority to ensure that our services are delivered as quickly and effectively as possible.
Right now, SBA team members are providing financing, resources and counseling to Americans facing devastation and despair in 20 different states, including the 22 parishes in Louisiana. Day and night, the SBA’s committed professionals are on the ground in unfamiliar places, manning hotlines, setting up disaster recovery centers, assessing damage, and processing loan applications. I am proud and inspired by their compassion and dedication.
Recently in Ascension Parish, I saw home after home bearing the mark of high water lines, as families piled their ruined possessions out front, a lifetime of hard work and memories washed away by the rising waters. In Denham Springs, I walked down North Range Avenue to visit the city’s famous antique stores – entire inventories of irreplaceable treasures lined the roadway, destroyed.
It’s one thing to see photographs or videos of the devastation, it’s quite another to see the loss of so much reflected in people’s eyes. These are images I will never forget.
I visited two of our eight business recovery centers, where homeowners and business owners are able to talk with SBA staff and apply for federal disaster assistance. In the month since the flooding began, SBA has deployed 356 staff members to Louisiana, who are working in concert with FEMA. We have received more than 21,000 loan applications and approved more than $376 million in financing.
This is our largest disaster since Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012. As part of our disaster recovery work, we continually apply lessons learned and endeavor to make the process simpler for the survivors who depend on it. In the 11 years since Hurricane Katrina, we have been working hard to automate and streamline our application, approval and disbursement processes – shaving weeks off the time it takes for homeowners and small business owners to get the help they need to rebuild.
When the rains hit Louisiana in August, we implemented many of these advancements and improvements – which meant that we didn’t have to wait for the water to go down before rolling up our sleeves and getting to work.
Throughout the first month of this disaster, 97 percent of SBA disaster loan applications have been submitted online through our newly updated, secure website. In addition, our loss verification teams have been using the latest advances in technology to make desktop assessments of damaged properties by downloading the footprints of affected homes and businesses.
Based on our experience in Superstorm Sandy, we revised our regulations to increase the unsecured loan limits for both physical damage and economic injury loans to $25,000. This change allows SBA to ensure that those first, crucial funds get into the hands of renters, homeowners and business owners in Louisiana more quickly. And we’ve called in our reserves to make sure there are enough trained professionals in our call centers, in our processing centers and on the ground.
We have made significant progress in reducing our processing and disbursement times. We will continue to do everything we can to further streamline our process, without sacrificing the integrity and compassion that we aim to include in everything we do.
The SBA and our team of tireless men and women will do everything we can to give the people of Louisiana the tools and resources they need to rebuild. And we will keep working until the job of recovery is done. Even after losing nearly everything and facing desperate and tragic conditions, Louisianans continue to step forward to offer help to neighbors and strangers alike. I remain in awe of their mettle, resiliency, and generosity."