Drought relief: Help coming to hard-hit businesses

Karean Mills

I recently attended a meeting of the White House Rural Council focusing on a coordinated response to historic drought conditions affecting communities across rural America. Our goal at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and across the administration is to make sure hard-hit communities have the tools and resources they need to recover from these severe drought conditions.

To date, the SBA has issued 71 agency drought declarations in 32 states covering more than 1,630 counties. These declarations allow small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and nonfarm small businesses economically affected by the drought in their communities to apply for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL).

To find out if your county has been declared a drought disaster area, view the SBA current disaster declarations page. To learn more about how to apply for a disaster loan, go to the disaster assistance section of the SBA Web site at www.SBA.gov

You can also contact the disaster assistance customer service center by e-mail at disastercustomerservice@sba.gov, or by telephone at (800) 659-2955.

The Department of Agriculture disaster and drought assistance site also offers good resources. The site includes links to maps of current disaster declaration areas and a weekly weather and drought blog.

In addition to our disaster loan program, the SBA, USDA and Department of Commerce through its Economic Development Administration (EDA) will host forums in communities affected by drought conditions. The goal of these forums will be to provide comprehensive information on available federal resources to help farms, ranches and small business. SBA disaster assistance staff, field staff and counselors from our resource partner network will be on hand to ensure you have all the tools and information you need to help your business.

For those who aren’t able to attend these forums, we will be setting up shop at state and county fairs across the country to make sure all of your questions are answered and that you’re getting the assistance you need.

We also will host a series of online webinars and conference calls to provide information and updates over the coming months.

Rural America is critical to our nation’s economy. And a key to the long-term success of rural communities is access and opportunity for small businesses and entrepreneurs in these regions. We’re focused on making sure that more small businesses in rural communities have the access to capital, counseling and contracting opportunities they need to grow and create good jobs.

We also know how important credit unions can be in rural communities. That’s why the National Credit Union Administration will announce that an additional 1,000 credit unions are eligible for low-income designation, exempting them from the statutory cap on small business lending. This allows unlimited lending to small business owners, including farmers. Of the 1,000 credit unions that will receive this designation, nearly half are located in drought-stricken states.

I travel all over the country meeting with small business owners and entrepreneurs. Some of the most innovative and exciting small businesses being built today are located in rural America. We’re going to make certain rural businesses not only have the resources they need to endure these difficult drought conditions, but also the tools to emerge stronger and more competitive than before.