Delayed federal disaster loans are an obvious problem for businesses wrecked by superstorm Sandy, especially seasonal operations such as hotels and restaurants near the shore counting down the precious summer weekends they rely on to turn a profit.
Those damaged by Sandy have been forced to wait 46 days, on average, for a decision after applying for loans from the Small Business Administration. That's more than twice as long as the SBA's performance goal of 21 days, and much longer than the two weeks, on average, it took to process applications following Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Ike in 2008. And that's not the SBA's only post-Sandy problem, according to a recent report from the House Committee on Small Business. Even after loans have been approved, disbursement is also slow. At the end of March -- five full months after Sandy hit -- only 14.7 percent of approved loans had been disbursed, compared to 40 percent five months after Irene.
The SBA has to do a better job getting money to the people who need it, when they need it, and Congress has to make sure that it does.
SBA officials blamed understaffing for the initial delay in handling the torrent of Sandy applications. But the agency didn't use outside contractors to help process applications, as allowed by law. And it has failed to implement two programs Congress authorized after Hurricane Katrina to mitigate loan delays: the Immediate Disaster Assistance Program, to provide bridge loans to businesses waiting for disaster loans, and the Private Disaster Loan Program, to guarantee 85 percent of loans provided by participating private lenders. Both were enacted in 2008 but never launched.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn) has asked the Government Accountability Office to review the SBA's performance. That won't help businesses now waiting for loans. But the new hurricane season begins again on Saturday. Congress has to make sure such detrimental delays are avoided the next time disaster strikes.