Yesterday, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), member of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee, questioned a witness on Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster resources, specifically for rural communities.
The witness is Mr. Francisco Sanchez Jr., Associate Administrator of the Office of Disaster Assistance of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Inhofe: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I do have a … request for assistance in a problem that we are having now, that you’re probably not aware of – maybe you are I don’t know– but when disasters happen the states can request a FEMA disaster declaration or SBA disaster declaration to help with the rebuilding process. Unfortunately, the Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management in my state has been told by your SBA regional counterparts for a number of years now that if a state is denied a FEMA declaration, they forfeit the ability to subsequently apply for SBA declaration in order to receive assistance. Now, I know that some people have denied this and the headquarters says that this is not the case, and that states can apply for an SBA declaration. Now, this is a discrepancy that is repeated several times and the request I’d like to have from you Mr. Sanchez: we need your commitment to resolve this issue. We’ve had this for a long period of time and we get some inconsistencies with this and to do this it would be necessary, I think, to follow up with both my office and your office of emergency management to correct this. I depend on you to help us in this effort.
Sanchez: Yes sir. Not only that Senator – I’m working on it already. As you know, [I’m] Oklahoma’s neighbor, where I come from in Texas. I called this morning to Mark Gower who is the director for the State Office of Emergency Management in Oklahoma. You can’t apply for an SBA disaster declaration if you’re denied by FEMA. I think there is confusion as to whether you can launch SBA prior to FEMA, and so we’re going to work through that and glad 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 get those programs on the ground.
Inhofe: Well, I know you can do it. And by the way, I’m very familiar… In the real world I was a builder and developer, mostly in south Texas, and I know how things worked and have worked with your department over a period of time. So, if we could do that, if you could do that, and give that commitment to us, that’d make our life a lot easier. Now, we have a lot of natural disasters, as you know: tornadoes, wildfires 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’re a rural state. So, when we have rural problems we feel it a little more than a lot of others do. They have a unique impact on the communities where they can easily wipe out the livelihoods of Oklahomans involved in farming and in ranching. So, is there something that you can share with us today, that I could take back, that you are doing to ensure the individuals in rural communities are able to access SBA disaster resources?
Sanchez: Senator, thank you for asking that because that hits close to home for me. I was born in deep south Texas, rural Texas.
Inhofe: Where, where?
Sanchez: Brownsville. Two miles more south and it would’ve been Matamoros, Mercy Hospital.
Inhofe: I’m fully familiar with that. South Padre Island and then all the way up to, well, halfway up the state.
Sanchez: It is. My grandfather actually… owned about a 20-acre ranch … So, he was a rancher as well and did a little bit of some crops there. So, I get rural. It is actually a focus of mine. I have reached out and that’s part of making sure we meet the customer where they’re at. We’ve had some rural communities hit, and my instruction to the team is [to] get on the ground, talk to local officials and let’s get out there …. I spoke to county executives directly, myself, that have 7,000 or less population, 17,000 or less population. It’s a focus of mine and if there’s lessons to be learned or ways that we can improve, not only am I open to it, it’s something that I am highly focused on personally.
Inhofe: Okay, good. That’s all I can ask, and I look forward to great results. Thank you.
Sanchez: Thank you, Senator.