Velazquez admonishes Congress, SBA to do more for small biz

With many small businesses still reeling from a string of hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, Democrats on the House Small Business Committee today released a midyear evaluation of congressional efforts to aid such companies.

The report details government shortfalls in all sectors, but is especially critical of the Small Business Administration and its efforts to assist small-business recovery along the Gulf Coast.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez, D-N.Y., repeated her call for the resignation of SBA Administrator Hector Barreto. She noted that in the three months since the last major hurricane, the organization has received 300,000 applications for financial assistance, turned down 80 percent of all disaster loans and has a backlog of more than 200,000 pending applicants.

So far, SBA has approved fewer than 2,000 loans to small businesses in the Gulf Coast, the report states.

SBA spokesman Raul Cisneros defended Barreto.

"Unfortunately, the political environment in Washington is not lacking for individuals who are anxious to throw stones," he said. "This administration is focused on helping the people of the Gulf Coast rebuild after these devastating hurricanes."

Barreto, in an earlier statement, praised SBA's new partnership with commercial banks to deliver the GO Loans program, which allow for expedited (response within 24 hours) small-business loans up to $150,000, which would be partially guaranteed by SBA at commercial banking rates.

The program was developed to augment the traditional disaster loan program, which offers lower interest rate but could take as long as 100 days to process an application.

Velazquez dismissed the program as ineffective. "A high interest rate and only six approved loans -- quite a victory for small businesses," she said.

The report also highlights 40 pieces of legislation before Congress that have yet to be voted on. The proposed legislation includes efforts intended to aid small businesses in gaining access to capital, on contracting issues, disaster assistance, energy policy, health care, regulation and taxation among others.

Velazquez said that President Bush, during his campaign for re-election, promised improvements for small businesses, but has not delivered.

"It has been over a year now, and all that this nation's entrepreneurs have received are a laundry list of empty promises," Velazquez said.

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