Yesterday, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a member of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee, questioned a witness about the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) disaster resources, particularly for rural communities.
The witness is Mr. Francisco Sanchez Jr., Associate Administrator of the US Small Business Administration’s Office of Disaster Assistance.
Inhofe: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have a… support request for a problem we’re having right now that you’re probably not aware of – maybe you are, I don’t know – but when disasters happen, states can apply for a FEMA disaster declaration or an SBA disaster declaration to help with the rebuilding process. Unfortunately, the Oklahoma Emergency Management Office in my state has been advised by your regional SBA counterparts for a number of years now that if a state is denied a FEMA statement, they lose the ability subsequently request a statement from the SBA in order to receive assistance. . Now I know some people have denied this and HQ says that is not the case, and states can request an SBA statement. Now, this is a discrepancy that repeats itself many times and the request that I would like to have from you Mr. Sanchez: we need your commitment to solve this problem. We’ve had this for a long time and we have inconsistencies with it and to do that, I think it would be necessary to follow up with my office and your office of emergency management to correct that. I count on you to help us in this effort.
Sanchez: Yes sir. Not just this senator – I’m already working on it. As you know it, [I’m] The neighbor of Oklahoma, where I come from in Texas. I called this morning Mark Gower, director of the State Office of Emergency Management in Oklahoma. You cannot apply for an SBA disaster declaration if you are denied by FEMA. I think there’s confusion about whether you can launch SBA before FEMA so we’ll be working on that and we’re happy to keep your office informed and work directly with Oklahoma to make sure we can be as flexible and nimble as we can be to put these programs on the ground.
Inhofe: Well, I know you can do it. And by the way, I know very well… In the real world, I was a builder and developer, mostly in South Texas, and I know how things worked and I worked with your department for a while. So if we could do that, if you could do that, and give us that commitment, it would make our lives so much easier. Now, we have a lot of natural disasters, as you know: tornadoes, forest fires and other problems. … The SBA is currently working with FEMA to respond to recent flooding in Seminole, Oklahoma. These disasters have a unique impact on rural communities. We are a rural state. So when we have rural problems, we feel it a little more than many others. They have a unique impact on communities where they can easily wipe out the livelihoods of Oklahomans involved in agriculture and ranching. So is there anything you can share with us today, which I could pick up on, that you are doing to ensure that individuals in rural communities are able to access disaster resources from the SBA?
Sanchez: Senator, thank you for asking this question, because it touches me deeply. I was born in deep south Texas, rural Texas.
Inhofe: Or or?
Sanchez: Brownville. Two miles further south and it would have been Matamoros, Mercy Hospital.
Inhofe: I am fully aware of this. South Padre Island, then all the way to half state.
Sanchez: He is. My grandfather actually owned… a ranch of about 20 acres… So he was also a rancher and he did a bit of harvesting there. So, I become rural. It’s actually one of my interests. I reached out and it’s part of the guarantee that we meet the customer where they are. Some rural communities have been affected, and my instructions to the team are [to] get out there, talk to local officials and let’s go…. I spoke directly to county executives, myself, which have 7,000 or less, 17,000 or less. It’s one of my goals and if there are lessons to be learned or ways to improve, not only am I open to it, but it’s something I personally focus on.
Inhofe: Alright, good. That’s all I can ask for, and I look forward to great results. Thanks.
Sanchez: Thank you, senator.