Congress holds hearing on Puerto Rico disaster loans
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón, who is a member of the U.S. House Committee on Small Business, questioned disaster-management officers of the Small Business Administration (SBA) regarding the delay in the disbursement of disaster loans for small entrepreneurs in Puerto Rico, which she said often takes more than six months.
The House committee held a public hearing Wednesday to monitor the SBA’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
There are more than 8,000 small businesses that have not reopened in the year since the massive hurricane struck the island directly. Among the reasons for not being able to restart operations, United Retailers Association President Jorge Arguelles Moran said, is the refusal of insurance companies to policyholders’ claims for damages.
Among the federal agencies that take an active role in disaster response and recovery, SBA has a leading role in direct assistance to small businesses, including the availability of home-repair loans of up to $200,000 and up to $2 million for business-related repairs.
In Puerto Rico, the SBA disaster division received 102,619 loan applications after María. Of these, 52,045 have been approved, for a total of $1.84 billion in low-interest loans. As part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) emergency relief process, “Hurricane survivors had to complete the SBA loan application. When the application was denied, the applicant automatically accessed the aid through FEMA,” according to a statement issued by González Colón.
“This is divided into 49,433 loans for housing, 2,188 for businesses, 424 for economic damages totaling 52,045 approved loans. They are reflected in allocations of funds of $1,630,533,800 for housing, $182,950,900 for businesses, $22,064,200 for economic damages that translate into $1,835,548,900 in approved dollars,” the release by the Puerto Rican congresswoman’s office reads.
With Hurricane Irma, it adds, ”
With Hurricane Irma, “this is broken down into 28 housing loans, 2 for businesses, and 7 for economic damages totaling 37 approved loans. They are reflected in allocations of funds of $1,142,300 for housing, $238,800 for businesses, $272,000 for economic damages that translate into $1,653,100 in approved dollars.”
González Colón stressed that the SBA should review its goals “so that the Technology Development Center for Small Businesses of Puerto Rico has achievable objectives to maintain the continuity of the services” it provides.
“As the only representative of Puerto Rico in Congress, I thank the Small Business Administration for its commitment to improve conditions in Puerto Rico. I want to thank the committee for holding this hearing on disaster loans and approving the money for entrepreneurs. In some cases, the process of disbursement of these has taken from one to six months. That is the concern I receive from entrepreneurs. We have to accelerate the disbursement of the resources approved by the Congress,” the resident commissioner said of the public hearing in which committee Chairman Steve Chabot recognized her work in the aftermath of last year’s historic hurricanes.