News and Press

Lawrence Eagle Tribune: Federal money sought for Merrimack Valley businesses affected by gas disaster

The state’s four congressional delegates sent a letter Monday to the Small Business Administration seeking federal assistance for businesses affected by the Merrimack Valley gas disaster.

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and U.S. Reps. Seth Moulton and Niki Tsongas sent the letter in support of a request the state already made seeking federal aid through the administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

The program offers low-interest loans that can be used to repair or replace real estate, personal property, machinery and equipment and inventory and business assets that were damaged in a declared disaster. The loans are based on the borrower’s credit and are offered for terms of up to 30 years.

The letter describes the “significant economic hardship” businesses have faced in the weeks after the Sept. 13 disaster, when natural gas explosions sparked more than 70 fires across Andover, North Andover and Lawrence.

Nearly 1,000 businesses have been affected by the crisis, according to the letter, and many are struggling with “direct and indirect costs, including employee payroll, and lost tax revenue.”

Joseph Bevilacqua, president of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, said seeking help from the SBA is “fantastic” because the administration is “empowered” to help small businesses.

“We look forward to working with them and we hope that the legislators are successful (in securing aid),” Bevilacqua said. “There’s probably no more appropriate agency than the SBA to assist small businesses.”

The loans would “work to bridge the loss of revenue and help stabilize the local economy” and would “greatly impact the revitalization of the region and help business meet operating expenses,” the legislators wrote in the letter.

A similar program was launched by Gov. Charlie Baker and Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera in September. At a press conference in Lawrence, the two men announced a $1 million loan fund for businesses affected by the gas disaster. The loans, which can be requested for up to $50,000, will be interest-free for six months, Baker said.

“This is unprecedented. That’s the issue that I hope the legislators stress,” Bevilacqua said. “We’re very concerned about the well-being of these small businesses.”