With more than 80,000 housing units lost to Hurricane Katrina's fury last year, finding a place to live is a priority for many in South Mississippi, where getting a low-interest government loan seems to be one the most daunting challenges.
Former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., uncorked a plan this week to speed federal loan money to disaster-stricken areas.
The Small Business Administration says it has approved more than $2.4 billion in low-interest loans for homeowners, renters and business owners in the state, through what some applicants claim is a tedious process that involves far too much red tape.
Kerry is promoting a bill designed to overhaul the SBA's Disaster Loan Program. In an e-mail to the Sun Herald this week, he said that only about 20 percent of the $2.5 billion in approved loans has actually made it into the hands of Mississippians.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Sun Herald
"The SBA has moved at a snail's pace to get loan money into the hands of disaster victims in Mississippi," said Kerry, the top Democrat on the Senate Small Business Committee. "Out of the more than $2.4 billion that could be rebuilding Mississippi neighborhoods, only $485 million has been distributed."
Kerry's bill would require the SBA to create a disaster plan and practice simulation exercises to better respond to major disasters.
It would authorize disaster loans to nonprofits, including religious organizations, and create a national model for providing bridge loans.
Bridge loans are quick-cash infusions to help businesses quickly return, but the loans offered by private banks often come with much higher interest rates and require a faster payoff.
Kerry's bill would allow states to use Community Development Block Grant money for more accessible bridge loans by eliminating a waiver process states currently have to go through.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.