Congress clears bill to allow businesses hurt by Superstorm Sandy to re-apply for loans

WASHINGTON – Small businesses that were affected by Superstorm Sandy and are still struggling could have another chance to apply for government assistance.

Legislation passed by the House and sent to President Barack Obama Monday would allow small businesses affected by Sandy to apply for new loans from the Small Business Administration, a response lawmakers say was needed after the agency moved too slowly in the wake of the superstorm that slammed the East Coast three years ago. Some homeowners could also be eligible for new loans.

The House passed the bill by voice vote after the Senate passed it last month.

The bill also lays out new parameters for giving emergency disaster loans to small businesses to make it easier and quicker for borrowers to receive money. A report by the Government Accountability Office last year said that the SBA took longer than expected to approve loans in the wake of Sandy, approved fewer loans than in some previous disasters and may not be fully prepared for future disasters.

“The fact is the SBA was caught flat-footed when Sandy came ashore and small businesses seeking relief suffered because of the agency’s slow response,” said Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on the House Small Business Committee. Velazquez represents parts of New York City that were hard-hit by the storm.

If signed by Obama, the legislation could help business owners like Tone Johansen, an owner of Sunny’s bar in Brooklyn. Her bar had more than a foot of water in the basement after Sandy and she was denied a loan for rebuilding. She says she still hasn’t gotten a new floor, and will “try day one” after the bill is enacted “for as much money as we can possibly get.”

She says she will be much better prepared this time around now that she knows how the process works.

The legislation had bipartisan support.

Republican Steve Chabot of Ohio, the Republican chairman of the House Small Business Committee, said on the House floor that it is important for the agency to be able to operate effectively after a disaster.

Chabot said that businesses impacted by Sandy “suffered twice — first by a disaster and second by the SBA’s inability to effectively provide disaster assistance.”