Nov. 11, 2005--Critics of the federal aid being given to small businesses along the Gulf Coast are simply expecting too much too soon, U.S. Small Business Administration chief Hector Barreto told a Senate committee Nov. 8.

Amid ongoing complaints of costly delays in processing disaster loans in the weeks and months since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Barreto defended the agency before the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, saying its quick response to smaller storms last year had raised expectations too high.

"If anything, we may have become a victim of our own success," Barreto said, citing Hurricanes Opal and George, in which the agency "responded with a speed that could not hope to be duplicated in an event the size of Hurricane Katrina."

After the four major hurricanes that struck U.S. soil last year, the SBA, which oversees emergency loans for both individuals and small businesses, received a total of 202,102 loan applications, Barreto said.

That's less than the number received within the first 70 days after Katrina, and about half what the agency now expects from this year's storm season.

After the Northridge, Calif., earthquake in 1994, which Barreto called the largest disaster the SBA has dealt with, the agency received some 250,000 loan applications. The relief effort required for Katrina will "dwarf that response in the days to come," he said.

The agency currently has more than 180,000 applications in its system from this season's storms, he said, and is accepting 5,000 more every day. Of those, about 35,000 have already been processed, he said.

This was Barreto's second appearance before the committee, which is investigating complaints of stalled business disaster loans.