Katrina +5: SBA, Taken by Surprise, Unprepared to Quickly Offer Aid

Businesses most prepared for rainy days most likely to succeed

The owners of the Praline Connection were better prepared than other New Orleans businesses to recover from Katrina.

Curtis Moore and Cecil Kaigler, co-owners of the Praline Connection restaurant, were both more fortunate and better prepared than most other businesses when Hurricane Katrina bore down on Louisiana.

As restaurant manager Gloria Moore explains, their primary location on the edge of the French Quarter sustained only a little roof damage, but electricity and gas weren’t available until November because of damage to utility lines. A smaller food court site at the Louis Armstrong International Airport was temporarily closed while the airport served as a triage center. Their biggest losses were their 49 employees and a facility they’d leased near the city’s convention center that was used for large parties and convention events, and a Sunday gospel brunch that served 300 guests each week. It was the only one of their locations to not reopen.

Initially, the U.S. Small Business Administration was very eager to assist, Moore recalled, but a year passed before their loan application was approved. They repeatedly were asked to submit additional information that would then somehow get lost or the loan officer with whom they were working would be replaced by someone who requested other information. At one point the deadline for all documentation even expired because of SBA’s disorganization.

“The most frustrating thing was that they never called you. When I’d call to check on the loan, that’s when they’d go to the file and say they needed [various] documents,” said Moore. “I don’t know if this was others’ experience, but I never got a call unless I initiated it.”

One year after the process began, the agency approved the $285,000 loan for working capital and equipment replacement.

“There are a lot of anecdotal stories like that and we don’t challenge them,” said James Rivera, associate administrator of SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance. Like all other agencies called on to assist in the recovery effort, the level of need was unlike any other they’d faced and they simply weren’t prepared.

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