WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) today joined Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) in introducing the Disaster Assistance for Rural Communities Act, which would allow rural homeowners, renters and small businesses to more easily access disaster relief in the wake of a natural disaster.

“Natural disasters don’t discriminate: They destroy homes and affect lives in rural communities just as in big cities. The people of Louisiana experienced this firsthand during last year’s historic hurricane season. The Disaster Assistance for Rural Communities Act would make it easier for people in rural communities to access much-needed federal assistance to recover from natural disasters. We cannot allow bureaucracy to block or delay help to those who desperately need it,” said Kennedy.   

“Under the current system, disaster victims in rural communities have experienced significant delays in relief funding brought on by bureaucratic red tape. This bipartisan legislation aims to fix that. The Disaster Assistance for Rural Communities Act will make critical resources available for rural small businesses affected by natural disasters,” said Risch. 

Under current law, bureaucratic roadblocks prevent small businesses and homeowners in rural communities from accessing Small Business Administration (SBA) assistance following a natural disaster. This legislation creates a waiver at no cost to taxpayers allowing rural communities to more readily access and secure SBA disaster assistance in the case of a presidentially-declared disaster.

Co-sponsors of this bill include Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).

Reps. Jim Hagedorn (R-Minn.) and Jared Golden (D-Maine) introduced the Disaster Assistance for Rural Communities Act in the House.

Text of the Disaster Assistance for Rural Communities Act is available here.

WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) today joined Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in introducing the Providing Resources for Emergency Preparedness and Resilient Enterprises (PREPARE) Act, which would help small businesses mitigate property damage from future disasters.

“No one knows better than a Louisianian how to prepare for natural disasters, and this bill will make it easier for our small businesses to prevent loss. Too often, hardworking Americans are forced to weather storms first and federal bureaucracy second. I’m thankful to work with Sen. Rubio and colleagues to pass the PREPARE Act before another historic hurricane batters our state,” said Kennedy.

Small businesses in America should be able to prepare for unplanned disasters. The PREPARE Act would allow small businesses the opportunity to invest in mitigation before a disaster strikes, saving businesses and taxpayers money, as well as reducing potential property damage,” said Rubio.

According to Federal Emergency Management Agency statistics, approximately 50 percent of small businesses close indefinitely following a disaster, and every $1 spent on mitigation saves taxpayers $6.

The PREPARE Act would:

  • Create an updated Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program for small businesses to proactively take out a low-interest loan (up to $500,000) to implement mitigation measures to protect their property from future disaster-related damage,
  • Authorize $25 million annually (FY2021 to FY2025),
  • Task the Small Business Administration (SBA) with establishing and carrying out an advertising and outreach program related to pre-disaster mitigation,
  • Task SBA with issuing guidance to ensure borrowers purchase and maintain insurance coverage over the duration of the loan,
  • Require SBA to conduct initial reporting and a program evaluation annually thereafter, and
  • Increase, from 20 to 30 percent, the limit on existing SBA Physical Business Disaster Loans a borrower may use towards post-disaster mitigation.
Text of the PREPARE Act is available here.

WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) today asked the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security to hold oversight hearings on the federal government’s response to the SEACOR Power tragedy. The SEACOR Power, a commercial lift boat, capsized this April in the Gulf of Mexico, killing six crewmembers. Seven crewmembers remain missing.

“It is clear that communication between the vessel operator and crewmember families was all too infrequent during search and rescue operations and that Congress must close gaps in existing vessel response plan regulations. Details of the immediate response from the [U.S. Coast Guard] and subsequent search and rescue efforts deserve to be heard on the record in a Congressional setting. Testimony from SEACOR Marine, the operator of the SEACOR Power, will help clarify why the lift boat was traveling through such severe weather in the first place,”wrote Kennedy.

“The capsizing of the SEACOR Power is the worst disaster to strike the Gulf Coast since the Deepwater Horizon blowout in 2010. We must ensure the federal response was timely and adequate. . . . There is an urgent need for clarity as loved ones of the lost crewmembers desperately seek answers. I stand ready to support all efforts to conduct oversight hearings in the relevant authorizing committee and appropriations subcommittee,” Kennedy concluded.

Following the SEACOR Power tragedy, Kennedy introduced the Vessel Response Plan Improvement Act, which would require commercial vessels to provide timely notifications to the crew’s family members throughout search and rescue operations. 

The letter is available here.

WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) has earned the National Taxpayers Union’s (NTU) Taxpayers’ Friend Award for his 2020 voting record. The NTU gives this award to lawmakers with voting records that promote low taxes, economic freedom and limited government. Only four senators earned this award in 2020.

“I am honored to receive the Taxpayers’ Friend Award. At a time when Washington seems to try to spend its way out of every problem, I will keep fighting to save Louisianians’ hard-earned taxpayer dollars, and to get the most out of every cent spent,” said Kennedy.

“The pandemic created unprecedented challenges for our nation—and for taxpayers. Despite these difficult circumstances, taxpayers should know that Sen. Kennedy continued to support fiscal discipline and responsible governance. Now more than ever, we need leaders like Sen. Kennedy to get our nation’s finances back in order and help restore our prosperity. National Taxpayers Union thanks Sen. Kennedy for his efforts on behalf of the people who pay government’s bills,” said Pete Sepp, President of NTU.

NTU publishes an annual scorecard that calculates a lawmaker’s voting record regarding fiscal responsibility. NTU considers every vote that impacts tax, spending, trade and regulatory policy, and grants the Taxpayers’ Friend Award to lawmakers with high scores. This year, Kennedy received an “A” grade. By comparison, the average Senate score was a “D.”

Read NTU’s 2020 scorecard here.

Watch Kennedy’s comments here.

WASHINGTON – The Senate today passed Sen. John Kennedy’s (R-La.) bipartisan Improving Mental Health Access for Students Act. The legislation requires colleges and universities to provide the contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Crisis Text Line and a campus mental health center on student identification cards. The bill passed the Senate in the 116th Congress by voice vote.

“Many Americans have known and loved someone who suffers with depression or anxiety. It’s a particular problem for our young people, and the global pandemic has only made a tough situation worse for too many college and university students. When students need help, many of them don’t know where to find it. The Improving Mental Health Access for Students Act would help ensure that students always have easy access to mental health resources. I hope the House sends it to the president’s desk immediately,” said Kennedy.  

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for young Americans, and a majority of cases of mental health issues begin by age 24. The global pandemic has made the situation more difficult: Roughly a quarter of college students say their depression has gotten worse during the pandemic. Over half of students do not know where to find help.

Colleges and universities can easily add the contact info for suicide hotlines and other mental health resources to student identification cards by updating existing templates or providing new basic identification stickers.  

Text of the Improving Mental Health Access for Students Act is available here.

WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), a member of the Senate Small Business Committee, joined Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and other Republican committee members in urging Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Isabella Guzman to investigate Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s (PPFA) unlawful participation in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The senators originally asked Guzman to investigate this issue in April, yet SBA has continued to approve additional PPP loans to PPFA affiliates. 

“In fact, since our April 15 letter to you, SBA approved PPP loans for at least two additional PPFA affiliates according to the most recent public data posted to the Agency’s website. This includes a $10 million dollar loan, the maximum loan amount, to a PPFA affiliate just last week. This is unacceptable. As members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, we expect transparency and cooperation with requests for information from your agency,” wrote the senators.

The senators renewed and expanded their April 15 call for an investigation into PPFA affiliates’ PPP loans, requesting the following information: 

  • A detailed explanation of how two PPFA affiliates were approved for second draw PPP loans despite SBA’s determination that they were ineligible for the program,
  • A detailed explanation of SBA’s process for ensuring entities that were determined to be ineligible for first draw loans do not get second draw loans,
  • All forgiveness information associated with loans to PPFA entities,
  • A description of any and all actions SBA has taken to recover PPP funds unlawfully provided to PPFA affiliates,
  • Complete PPP loan-level data for all PPFA affiliates,
  • A detailed explanation of why SBA continues to approve PPP loans to PPFA affiliates despite the agency’s previous determination that they were ineligible for PPP, and
  • Unredacted copies of any and all agency decisions, determinations, guidance, policies and/or documents related to PPP loans to PPFA affiliates.

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) also signed the letter.

This April, Kennedy also joined Marshall and more than 20 other Republican senators in introducing the Abortion Providers Loan Elimination Act, which would explicitly prohibit abortion providers, like Planned Parenthood, from receiving PPP loans.  

The letter is available here.

WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today announced $5,317,648 in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The funds will be used for a hurricane community safe room and elevation projects in St. Tammany Parish, a watershed detention project in East Baton Rouge Parish and elevation projects in Ascension Parish.

“Storms and floods have hit these parishes hard. Above all else, we must keep Louisiana families and homes safe. I am grateful for the assistance this funding provides for St. Tammany, Ascension and East Baton Rouge Parishes,” said Kennedy.

FEMA will fund 75 percent of a hurricane community safe room project in Slidell, La. in St. Tammany Parish. The FEMA share is $1,295,592. The room will be built in a public works facility and in accordance with FEMA community safe room guidelines. FEMA will also provide $1,090,727 to elevate eight structures in the parish, pursuant to the National Flood Insurance Act. These properties are located in a special flood hazard area 

FEMA will fully fund phase one of a $1,620,000 watershed detention project in East Baton Rouge Parish. This phase includes surveying and analysis of the proposed project sites in addition to engineering, design and permitting.

FEMA will also provide $1,311,329, or 93 percent of the funding, to elevate eight structures located in the special flood hazard area in Ascension Parish, pursuant to the National Flood Insurance Act.

WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) today introduced the Sponsor Promote and Compensation (SPAC) Act, which would provide greater transparency for investors involved with Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs), also known as blank-check companies. 

“SPACs are becoming more and more popular, but the risks that can come with these companies aren’t clear to most everyday investors. While we can all recognize that celebrities don’t tend to be paragons of sound financial planning, they’re often the public face of companies selling shares to hardworking Americans. It’s right and fair that a SPAC should disclose how its sponsors get paid and how that affects the value of its public shares, and the Sponsor Promote and Compensation Act would require this kind of transparency,” said Kennedy.

SPACs raise investor funds through an initial public offering (IPO) with the goal of acquiring and merging with a private company within a two-year window. The SPAC formula is attractive because it permits companies to go public on a U.S. stock exchange without the delays and demands of a traditional IPO, allowing them to avoid liability and disclosure regulations.

Fifty percent of all IPOs in the U.S. in 2020 involved SPAC structures, and SPACs raised $82 billion in the same year. In the first three months of this year, SPACs outpaced traditional IPOs, raising $95 billion so far.

When a SPAC proposes a merger with a private company, current SPAC shareholders can choose to redeem their original SPAC shares for money plus interest rather than participate in the merger by acquiring new shares in the merged company. If a SPAC fails to complete a merger within two years of its creation, it liquidates and returns all funds to its shareholders, with interest.

Wall Street executives, celebrities and other public figures often serve as the founders and sponsors of SPACs. They act as the public face of the company, use their influence to fundraise through share offerings, promote the company and help identify a private company with which to merge. 

Most SPAC sponsors award themselves “founder shares” that convert into public shares after the merger between the SPAC and a private company. The founder shares typically represent as much as 20 percent of the total share value of the company. 

This type of compensation does not exist as part of traditional IPOs. When SPAC sponsors convert the shares that they receive in the merged company, the public’s shares of that company are diluted and lose value. The valuation of SPAC shares may fall even further if a SPAC sponsor chooses a weak company with which to merge.

Some market experts have called for SPACs to make their compensation structures more explicit in order to protect retail investors. 

Within 120 days of its enactment, the SPAC Act would require the SEC to issue rules on enhanced disclosures for SPACs during the initial public offering stage and the pre-merger stage to make those disclosures more transparent to investors, especially main street investors. These measures would help investors make informed decisions based on more accurate valuations of a company’s shares.

Text of the SPAC Act is available here.

WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) today introduced the Vessel Response Plan Improvement Act in the wake of the Seacor Power tragedy, in which a commercial lift boat capsized in the Gulf of Mexico with 19 crewmembers on board. Kennedy’s bill would require commercial vessels to provide timely notifications to the crew’s family members throughout search and rescue operations.

“The brave families of the Seacor Power crew have suffered more than we can imagine, and it’s appalling that they couldn’t even get straight answers about their loved ones. No Louisiana family should ever have to walk through tragedy with the added weight of the unknown just because of someone else’s poor planning. This bill would make sure that families get updates quickly, directly from the vessel’s owners, instead of being forced to sift through rumors in a time of pain. I’m incredibly sad that Louisiana has lost such faithful crewmembers, and I hope we can prevent others from bearing the burden that their loved ones have had to endure,” said Kennedy.  

Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) is the sponsor of the House companion bill.

“The Seacor tragedy exposed gaps in existing vessel response plan regulations, especially regarding the frequency and timeliness of updates for the crewmembers’ families. We want to ensure that professional, compassionate, and transparent communication is a component of every vessel response plan. Our legislation assists in that effort. Our prayers remain with the families of every crewmember and those still searching to bring their loved ones home,” said Higgins.

All commercial oil industry vessels are currently required to develop a detailed vessel response plan that the U.S. Coast Guard approves. Vessel owners follow these plans during emergencies such as oil spills or capsized boats. 

Existing regulations for vessel response plans include no requirement that vessel owners provide the families of crewmembers with any timely updates in the event of search and rescue operations. The Vessel Response Plan Improvement Act would ensure that loved ones of crew members receive timely notice throughout any future emergencies.

This legislation would require vessel owners to develop a procedure for the immediate notification of next of kin in the event that search and rescue teams save or recover crewmembers following an emergency. Even in the absence of rescue or recovery developments, the bill would require vessel owners to update families at least two times each day while search and rescue efforts are ongoing.

The Coast Guard held briefings for family members of Seacor Power crewmen twice daily, and the Vessel Response Plan Improvement Act would codify the practice as a requirement.  

Text of the Vessel Response Plan Improvement Act is here.

Video of Kennedy’s statement on efforts to support recovery work is here.

Kennedy’s letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is here.

Watch Kennedy’s comments here.

WASHINGTON – The Senate today passed Sen. John Kennedy’s (R-La.) amendment requiring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct an annual study on the prevalence of boil water advisories across the U.S. The EPA Administrator will have to submit a report to Congress describing the results of this study as part of the EPA’s annual budget request, and the report must include specific reasons boil water advisories were issued. The amendment is part of the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021, which the Senate passed after the adoption of Kennedy’s amendment.

“Boil water advisories affect Americans across the U.S., but they especially plague Louisiana. Louisianians have endured more than 9,600 boil water advisories since 2015, sometimes affecting whole communities. We need to understand the scope of this problem if we want to make sure Louisianians have confidence that their water is safe and clean at all times, and this amendment will make sure the EPA provides answers to our state and our country,” said Kennedy.

Public water systems issue boil water advisories when water distribution systems lose pressure, because that loss in pressure can lead to drinking water contamination. This problem occurs frequently in Louisiana, which has experienced almost 10,000 boil water in the last six years and 1,630 advisories in 2020 alone. Since 2015, more than 1,900 advisories have been system-wide, meaning they significantly impacted a large number of people, and often, entire communities. Last year, Louisiana experienced 1,630 boil water advisories, 341 of which were system-wide. 

Text of the amendment is available here.