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Ms. VELAZQUEZ. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (S. 1617) to modify the requirements for the Administrator of the Small Business Administration relating to declaring a disaster in a rural area, and for other purposes.
The Clerk read the title of the bill.
The text of the bill is as follows: S. 1617
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the ``Disaster Assistance for Rural Communities Act''. SEC. 2. DISASTER DECLARATION IN RURAL AREAS.
(a) In General.--Section 7(b) of the Small Business Act (15 U.S.C. 636(b)) is amended by inserting after paragraph (15) the following:
``(16) Disaster declaration in rural areas.--
``(A) Definitions.--In this paragraph--
``(i) the term `rural area' means any county or other political subdivision of a State, the District of Columbia, or a territory or possession of the United States that is designated as a rural area by the Bureau of the Census; and
``(ii) the term `significant damage' means, with respect to property, uninsured losses of not less than 40 percent of the estimated fair replacement value or pre-disaster fair market value of the damaged property, whichever is lower.
``(B) Disaster declaration.--For the purpose of making loans under paragraph (1) or (2), the Administrator may declare a disaster in a rural area for which a major disaster was declared by the President under section 401 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5170) and for which individual assistance was not authorized under section 408 of such Act (42 U.S.C. 5174) if--
``(i) the Governor of the State or the Chief Executive of the Indian tribal government in which the rural area is located requests such a declaration; and
``(ii) any home, small business concern, private nonprofit organization, or small agricultural cooperative has incurred significant damage in the rural area.
``(C) SBA report.--Not later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this paragraph, and every year thereafter, the Administrator shall submit to the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship of the Senate and the Committee on Small Business of the House of Representatives a report on, with respect to the 1-year period preceding submission of the report--
``(i) any economic injury that resulted from a major disaster declared by the President under section 401 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5170) in a rural area;
``(ii) each request for assistance made by the Governor of a State or the Chief Executive of an Indian tribal government under subparagraph (B)(i) and the response of the Administrator, including the timeline for each response; and
``(iii) any regulatory changes that will impact the ability of communities in rural areas to obtain disaster assistance under this subsection.''.
(b) Regulations.--Not later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration shall issue regulations to carry out the amendment made by subsection (a).
(c) GAO Report.--
(1) Definition of rural area.--In this subsection, the term ``rural area'' means any county or other political subdivision of a State, the District of Columbia, or a territory or possession of the United States that is designated as a rural area by the Bureau of the Census.
(2) Report.--Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Comptroller General of the United States shall submit to the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship of the Senate and the Committee on Small Business of the House of Representatives a report on--
(A) any unique challenges that communities in rural areas face compared to communities in urbanized areas when seeking to obtain disaster assistance under section 7(b) of the Small Business Act (15 U.S.C. 636(b)); and
(B) legislative recommendations for improving access to disaster assistance for communities in rural areas.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of S. 1617, the Disaster Assistance for Rural Communities Act. This bill will close a loophole in the Small Business Administration's disaster lending program, which disproportionately impacts homeowners and businesses located in remote rural areas.
Although people assume SBA only provides assistance to small businesses after a declared disaster, the opposite is true. In fact, according to CRS, approximately 80 percent of SBA disaster loans were awarded to individuals and households rather than businesses.
SBA's disaster lending program has been an important tool that helps not only businessowners, but also homeowners and renters rebuild after disasters and emergencies.
Under the current law, when the President declares a disaster under the Stafford Act, but does not authorize individual assistance, the SBA must declare a disaster for an individual to apply for a loan.
Yet, for SBA to declare a disaster, a minimum amount of physical damage must be sustained by a certain number of homes and businesses in a county or smaller political subdivision. This policy hurts remote rural areas because SBA cannot declare a disaster if a minimum number of homes or businesses aren't damaged or destroyed.
This outdated policy is hurting some of our most vulnerable citizens. We must close this loophole, especially as major disasters become more prevalent and destructive due to climate change.
In 2021, the United States experienced 20 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, which caused $145 billion in damage.
This bill addresses this issue by allowing SBA to declare a disaster in any rural area in which a major disaster has been declared by the President but individual assistance hasn't been authorized under the Stafford Act. It is critical that SBA disaster lending programs be available to all individuals, no matter where they reside or where they operate their business.
I thank Senators Risch, Shaheen, Hassan, Kennedy, and Braun for their leadership on this important measure. I also thank Mr. Golden, who introduced a companion bill on the House side.
Mr. Speaker, I urge all Members to vote ``yes,'' and I reserve the balance of my time.
This legislation to update SBA's policy to provide assistance to homeowners and businesses in remote rural areas is long overdue. Individuals affected by natural disasters need SBA assistance now more than ever, particularly with the threat of major disasters due to climate change.
A business' location shouldn't determine their eligibility for aid in the wake of a natural disaster. Simply put, it is not fair for SBA loans to be available for individuals impacted by a tornado or flood in an urban area, but not a remote rural area just because the number of properties damaged by the disaster didn't meet an arbitrary threshold.
The SBA's disaster lending program has been an essential tool helping people get back on their feet after a disaster and the program should be available to help as many people as possible.
I thank Ranking Member Luetkemeyer for working with me to get this bill passed today.
In the 117th Congress, Representative Luetkemeyer joined the committee as the ranking member, and while we may not have always seen eye to eye, we were able to set aside our differences to bring more than 20 bipartisan bills to the floor, including legislation to extend the statute of limitations for fraud cases involving PPP and COVID EIDL.
The spirit of bipartisanship has always been central to the day-to- day operations of the committee. I look forward to continuing this tradition. American small businesses deserve nothing less.
I once again thank the members of the committee and their staff who have worked tirelessly through this Congress to aid small business owners and entrepreneurs throughout the country. I am incredibly proud of all the work our committee has done to support small businesses when they needed it the most.
Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on S. 1617, and I yield back the balance of my time.
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