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SBA Disaster Assistance: Then and Now

SBA’s disaster loan programs are a critical piece of the federal government’s overall response in the wake of disasters. As part of the ongoing series on Hurricane Katrina, Administrator Karen Mills discusses the vast improvements the agency has made in the past five years and her continuing commitment to strengthening the program.

Tommy and Maria DeLaune are a prime example of small business owners who suffered a one-two punch from Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater BP oil spill.  They run Tommy’s Seafood, a New Orleans seafood processor and wholesaler that employs about 20 people. 

When Hurricane Katrina hit, the business suffered major damage at its two facilities, including loss of equipment and inventory.  They applied for an SBA disaster loan in October 2005 but didn’t get approved until May 2006 and the loan wasn’t fully disbursed until October 2006, a year later.

They got hit again when the oil spill forced closures on fishing waters in the Gulf of Mexico, where their suppliers work.  Tommy and his wife Maria had to look 500 miles away to find more seafood to process, so they had higher expenses and lower profit margins.  This time around, however, their experience with SBA was “amazing,” according to Maria.  Their disaster loan was approved in just 16 days and it was fully disbursed just a month later. Additionally, SBA deferred their existing Katrina loan for 12 months so they can use more of their resources to deal with the financial strain caused by the oil spill.

Right now, hundreds of SBA staff are on the ground providing assistance through loans to business owners, homeowners, and renters in more than 40 locations across the country that have been hit by disasters.  SBA’s disaster loan programs are a critical piece of the federal government’s overall response in the wake of disasters, and we are providing these loans more quickly and effectively than ever before.

As we approach the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it is important to look back and take note of the agency’s performance at that time. SBA was not prepared, nor fully equipped to effectively provide assistance in the wake of that disaster. But we’ve learned from our mistakes and, today, we have a much better disaster assistance program in place with increased staff, improved technology and training, and a streamlined loan process. 

What does that mean in real terms?

  • It means we reduced the average processing time for disaster loans from over 70 days to just 10 days.
  • It means we created a way for disaster victims to apply online for loans, and now 30% of applicants choose to use this method.
  • It means we dramatically increased the capacity of our disaster loan processing centers (from 366 to 1,750 workstations) and our disaster credit management system (from 800 up to 10,000 users at the same time).
  • It means we increased the number of SBA disaster staff from 800 to 1,200. Additionally, we have more than 1,500 active reserve and 500 ready reserve on call when needed. And, it’s important to note that in our last annual survey, 83 percent of the active reservists and 63 percent of the ready reservists said they were available to be deployed with 48 hours notice.

The overhaul of the SBA disaster assistance program since Katrina has resulted in vast improvements that are helping us and our federal partners meet the needs of disaster victims more quickly than ever – helping people like Tommy and Maria DeLaune.  Everyone at SBA remains committed to continuing to improve and strengthen this critical program. We know that it can – and is – making the difference in local communities across the country, helping families get back in their homes and helping businesses put employees back to work.

Karen Mills is Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration

Read more from the Hurricane Katrina: 5 Years of Remembering & Rebuilding series.