Small business owners still reeling from last year's storms in the Gulf Coast are being given an extra month to apply for federal disaster loans, the Small Business Administration announced Friday.
The deadline for economic injury loans has been extended from May 29 to June 28 for businesses hit by Hurricane Katrina, and July 24 for Hurricane Rita, the agency said.
The extensions come after "consulting with the business community, local officials, and our congressional delegation," outgoing SBA Administrator Hector Barreto said in a statement.
"It's a top priority for us to help small businesses recover from last year's devastating hurricanes and I am pleased that we're able to give them extra time to submit an application," Barreto said.
Since Katrina struck on Aug. 29, followed by Rita just weeks later, the agency has processed some 57,133 disaster loan applications from small businesses in the Gulf Coast region, approving 21,132 loans worth over $2.1 billion. As of last week, less than half of those loans had been disbursed, according to the SBA.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates more than 125,000 small and midsize businesses were disrupted by the storms.
"Katrina-affected business needed this additional time to apply for these vital low-interest loans," Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who had pushed for an extension, said in a statement on Friday.
On May 26, Landrieu and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the top Democrat on the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, sent a letter to the SBA outlining concerns from local small-business owners who said they needed more time to prepare loan applications.
On Friday, they commended the SBA for pushing back the deadline.
"It is critical that Washington is doing everything possible to get the Gulf Coast residents the assistance they need for a full economic recovery," Kerry said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a "very active hurricane season" -- which began on June 1 -- including 13 to 16 named storms and up to 10 hurricanes.