Dr. Carlos Heredia thought he and the medical services center he owns in Morovis, Puerto Rico, were well prepared for any hurricane. Dr. Heredia had lived on the island most of his life and had experienced major storms, providing medical help to other disaster survivors since he was a student. But even he said the magnitude of Hurricane Maria took him by surprise.
Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, with massive force and fury. Sustained winds of 155 miles per hour knocked out power, flooded streets, and destroyed buildings throughout the island. After the hurricane passed, Dr. Heredia discovered that his clinic was severely damaged, and at a time his community needed it most. He encountered storm survivors who didn’t have the insulin they needed, and those who could not keep their medicine refrigerated because their electricity had failed. He started treating patients in their homes, even when accessing them required hours of travel finding detours around collapsed bridges.
As Dr. Heredia worked to help his community with its medical needs; he sought help from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for his clinic’s needs.
In the wake of a declared disaster, the SBA assists in the rebuilding and economic recovery of a community by providing affordable, timely loans to businesses of all sizes, nonprofits, homeowners and renters to cover uninsured losses. Businesses can get low-interest loans of up to $2 million to pay for lost inventory, machinery, equipment, property repairs and even working capital. Homeowners can get loans of up to $200,000 to repair or replace their primary residence. Homeowners as well as renters, can get loans of up to $40,000 to replace damaged or destroyed personal property such as clothing, furniture and vehicles. Most importantly, the assistance is directly available right in the affected communities.
After Hurricane Maria, the SBA had disaster response staff on the ground within 48 hours, working alongside its partners at FEMA at Disaster Recovery Centers throughout Puerto Rico. Today, the SBA continues to support recovery with more than 300 disaster staff at 50 locations throughout the island.
In the year since Hurricane Maria struck, the SBA has approved 52,400 disaster loans totaling nearly $2 billion to help the people of Puerto Rico. Dr. Heredia got a low-interest loan to repair his wind-ravaged roof and replace damaged medical equipment.
“With really low rates and a reasonable time to pay it back, I could start rebuilding my clinic and help my community,” he said.
The SBA is working to ensure all people are aware of the options available to them after declared disasters. Survivors of natural disasters can register at DisasterAssistance.gov to see the types of assistance for which they are eligible.
Small business owners can develop a continuity plan so they can get back up and running as quickly as possible; share their plans with employees so they understand their roles in planning and recovery; protect their investment by reviewing their insurance coverage and storing important records offsite and in the digital cloud; and to prepare alternatives in their supply chain in case their primary vendors are unavailable.
As the SBA advises small business owners to prepare for potential disasters, the Agency is taking actions of its own to ensure it is well prepared to deliver services as efficiently and effectively as possible. We conducted an extensive review of last year’s hurricane response and identified areas for improvement. The Agency is modernizing its Disaster Credit Management System, bringing its system to the digital cloud to maximize technology and process more loans faster. Streamlining these processes typically enables the SBA to disburse loans to approved borrowers within five days. The Agency has also revised its staffing strategy to bring extra employees on board faster after a disaster and added more bilingual staff to better support disaster survivors in all corners of America.
In the year since Hurricane Maria hit, Dr. Heredia has replaced all his machinery and is again operating at full capacity. With the help of the SBA loan he received, his clinic is delivering on the same goal the SBA has for itself – providing help to those who need it, precisely when they need it most.