The Star-Ledger

NJ's Federal Sandy Aid Not Reaching Small Businesses Fast Enough, Says Interest Group

The Star-Ledger — Thursday, February 13, 2014

By Stacy Jones / The Star-Ledger

LAVALLETTE — A New Jersey small-business interest group is criticizing the Stronger NJ Business Grant Program for only having approved $11.5 million in aid for small businesses, which amounts to roughly half the $25 million budget for the "Stronger Than the Storm" marketing campaign.

The New Jersey Main Street Alliance, a network of small businesses affiliated with New Jersey Citizen Action, put out a statement late Tuesday claiming that a large portion of $260 million in federal aid meant to help small businesses impacted by Hurricane Sandy has gone unspent.

The group says more than 3,000 businesses submitted applications seeking $167 million in assistance.

The program, which is administered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, accepted applications through Dec. 31 for grants worth up to $50,000 to cover working capital or construction costs.

"The fact that only 6 percent of the businesses that have applied have been awarded grant money is a disgrace," said Corinne Horowitz, a business representative for NJ Main Street Alliance. "New Jersey has spent 2.5 times more on the 'Stronger Than The Storm' tourism ads than it has awarded thus far to businesses."

NJEDA spokeswoman Valerie Pellerin took issue with Main Street Alliance's numbers, which didn't account for 37 grants worth $1.5 million that have been approved since the start of the year. She added that business owners who didn't finish applying before the deadline should call 1-855-SANDY-BZ.

Pellerin said Main Street Alliance overlooked the value of the ad campaign, which was meant to attract tourists to the Jersey Shore so that recently reopened businesses didn't suffer from a lack of customers.

She cited a January NJEDA report that used hotel tax receipts and Bureau of Labor Statistics data to say the 2013 summer season outperformed 2009 and 2011, but fell short of 2012.

"While direct support of individual businesses is critical, the overall economic health of the impacted communities is critical for the survival of all businesses," she said in an email. "In 2013, the Stronger Than The Storm campaign helped drive tourist activity and offset the expectation that the summer season would see a drop in tourist activity."

The commercial caused a stir when it started airing last year in the midst of Gov. Christie's reelection campaign and recently became the subject of a federal investigation.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.) said he took issue with the fact that MMW, the firm chosen to produce the tourism ad, submitted a bid $2.2 million higher than another company that had no plans to feature the Christie family in the commercial.

Marilyn Schlossbach, who owns five restaurants along the shore, submitted grant applications for two of her hardest-hit properties: Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park and Labrador Lounge in Lavallette.

Pellerin said that the NJEDA had already approved a grant for Schlossbach, but the restaurant owner said she's still in danger of having to close the Labrador Lounge.

"The (grant program representative) handling my application for Labrador at this point is not responding to my calls or emails. I don't know what's going on," Schlossbach said. "I just know that the restaurant is on the verge of closing."

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