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Florida businesses push for improved recovery aid following Michael

'We didn’t have power here for four weeks'
Posted at 6:18 PM, Aug 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-14 21:04:22-04

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — The recovery money needs to come quicker. That’s the message small businesses from the Florida panhandle gave U.S. Senator Marco Rubio on Wednesday. 

Rubio, chair of the Senate’s Small Business Committee, was visiting Panama City to learn what could be improved following Hurricane Michael. 

Aaron Rich, the founder of Aaron Rich Marketing, was looking for improvements to Small Business Administration loans. He had utilized the program after Hurricane Michael smashed into his downtown Panama City office.

“We had collapsed ceilings,” Rich said. “We had a lot of sheetrock we had to tear out— loss of a tremendous amount of electronic equipment.”

PHOTOS: Hurricane Michael slams Florida Panhandle
MEXICO BEACH, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 11: Homes swept off their foundation by Hurricane Michael are shown from the air October 11, 2018 in Mexico Beach, Florida. At least seven deaths have been attributed to Michael, the most powerful hurricane on record to hit Florida's Panhandle, with 155-mph sustained winds. (Photo by Chris O'Meara-Pool/Getty Images)

Rich has since reopened and mostly recovered but said his business could have bounced back quicker if SBA loans hadn’t been such a challenged to apply for. 
“Streamlining the process is part of it,” Rich said. “I think extending out the deadlines of when we could apply. We didn’t have power here for four weeks.”

SBA loans can typically take months to turn around. Not ideal for businesses that need those dollars to make repairs, keep employees and lights on.

That's why, in part, FEMA estimates 90% of smaller companies fail within a year unless they can reopen in five days. 

Hurricane Michael damage
Property and infrastructure damage across Mexico Beach, Florida Oct. 14, 2018. Hurricane Michael made landfall Oct. 10, 2018 causing significant damage across North West Florida.

Rubio told the group gathered at Gulf Coast State College he was listening and promised to take the message back to D.C. 

“For us, the Small Business Committee, the recommendations that came out from today — how to improve the SBA processes for small businesses — we’ll try to implement that,” the GOP senator said. 

Rubio also noted the need to shave off time for FEMA funds to arrive following a disaster. It can take years while communities dig themselves into serious debt paying for repairs.

The senator said creating legislation won’t be easy. Congress, he said, tends to forget about a topic if it isn’t constantly reminded.

“That’s the challenge of policymakers to make sure our policies don’t fall in that regard,” Rubio said. We have just taken every chance to tell the Northwest Florida story.”

Business leaders in the Panama City area estimated they had a long way to go before recovery is finished. Officials believed they’re only about 50% complete.