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WASHINGTON - In a proactive effort to provide relief to small businesses hit by higher energy costs, the United States Senate today passed legislation to provide low-cost emergency loans to small businesses hurt by the energy crisis. The bill would set up a similar program for family farmers within the Department of Agriculture.

Conditional upon an energy disaster declaration by the Governor, the Small Business Energy Emergency Relief Act will authorize the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide working capital to businesses facing high energy prices.

"Small businesses and farmers have been especially hard-hit by this energy crisis," said Murray. "While this effort won't solve all of our state's problems, it is an important step towards providing some temporary relief."

The bill is especially critical considering the difficulty small businesses and farmers are having obtaining loans. The Federal Reserve Board's February 5th quarterly survey on lending practices found that banks tightened their lending to small businesses by 45 percent over the previous three months.

"I am proud that the Congress is moving to respond to the crisis. I hope the administration will follow our lead and recognize the hardship we are feeling."