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After Rubio Pressure, Small Business Administration Makes Businesses Eligible For Lake Okeechobee Disaster Relief

Apr 7, 2016 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that Florida businesses affected by Lake Okeechobee discharges are now eligible for disaster loan relief. The decision comes after U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) challenged an SBA official yesterday at a Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee hearing on federal disaster responses.

At the hearing yesterday, Rubio questioned the SBA on its progress in providing assistance to businesses damaged by Lake Okeechobee flooding and discharges.

“It’s my understanding that SBA is considering extending eligibility under this same declaration to businesses affected by these discharges from Lake Okeechobee,” Rubio said. “And of course that’s something I’d strongly encourage the SBA to approve.”

Deputy SBA Administrator Douglas Kramer responded by stating that while he was aware that the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture had made a disaster declaration, this alone was not enough to trigger assistance from the SBA.

After Rubio pressed for clarification, Kramer stated that he would need to confirm and follow up on whether that an application from the Governor was required.

In an email to Rubio’s office today, SBA officials said, “After a careful review, SBA has concluded that businesses affected by the water released from Lake Okeechobee are eligible to apply under SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) declaration FL 14671.”

These loans can be up to $2 million, with 30-year repayment at interest rates that do not exceed 4 percent. Businesses affected by Lake Okeechobee discharges may apply online at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. The deadline to apply is November 16, 2016.

Video of the exchange that led to this development can be found here.

A transcript of Rubio’s exchange follows:

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship
April 6, 2016
Washington, D.C.
https://youtu.be/EBph8cCyt1w

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: “Mr. Kramer, as you may know, my home state is not a stranger to severe weather.  We had a wetter than average winter that caused Lake Okeechobee’s levels to climb, and as a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began discharging billions of gallons of water to the east through the St. Lucie River and to the west as well.

“And the discharges have had a dramatic negative consequence on hundreds of businesses that rely on healthy rivers, including, for example, the commercial fishermen.  Florida’s tourism industry has also seen a decline in various parts of the state.

“So I’ll continue to work on the Central Everglades Planning Project, which is more of a long term solution. In the short term, we should help businesses that have been harmed to recover. And here’s how we can.

“On March the 17th of March this year, the Secretary of Agriculture issued a disaster declaration for several Florida counties as a result of flooding due to heavy rains.  This declaration triggered the eligibility for SBA assistance.

“It’s my understanding that SBA is considering extending eligibility under this same declaration to businesses affected by these discharges from Lake Okeechobee. And of course that’s something I’d strongly encourage the SBA to approve. Can you update me on what the status is and an estimated timing for a decision on that?”

SBA DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR DOUGLAS KRAMER: “Thank you, Senator, for that question. I am aware of the situation. I am aware that the Secretary of Agriculture has made a declaration, a disaster declaration, for that area. I am not aware, though, that for an SBA declaration in the absence of a presidential declaration, we have to receive an application from the Governor for our services and our declaration.

“The Governor has made such a declaration with regard to two different events in late February related to tornadoes that were in Florida. So we’ve worked with them on that, and I know that those came to us just last week. And we should have approval, and I expect a decision, in a matter of days on those. I’m not aware yet though that we have received a request on the other one, although I can contact our staff and make sure that they use the established lines of communication they have.”

RUBIO: “So by issuing the declaration, the Secretary of Agriculture for these counties as a result of flooding, this in and of itself does not trigger eligibility for SBA assistance?”

KRAMER: “I will confirm. My understanding is that, when there is a presidential declaration, our services are automatically triggered. Otherwise there is a separate process by which we make a declaration. Often times it can happen in concert with the other ones, but that the Secretary of Agriculture declaration would not necessarily trigger our services. But I’ll confirm that and make sure that we follow up.”

RUBIO: “Well if there’s something missing from the state side we’d like to know about it and address it.”