Asbury Park Press

Small Business Owners Lash Out At Sandy Aid Delays

Asbury Park Press — Thursday, March 13, 2014

Written by
Kirk Moore

Restaurant operator Marilyn Schlossbach said she has paid $100,000 for insurance coverage on her businesses "and never got a dime" from those carriers.

Nor, to date, from the state Economic Development Authority. Schlossbach joined other small business owners in a telephone news conference hosted by New Jersey Main Street Alliance to call for faster disbursement of EDA rebuilding aid.

"We're going on a year and a half now. This is crazy," Schlossbach said. "We should have learned from (Hurricane) Katrina and all the other storms."

"There's $87.5 million they're sitting on," said Corinne Horowitz of New Jersey Citizen Action, an activist group associated with Main Street. "There needs to be a lot of oversight on this project."

Like housing advocates who complain about the slow pace of rebuilding aid, Main Street, a group that advocates for small business and workers' issues, on Wednesday called for speeding up the process for delivering aid to small businesses, and a state investigation of how the EDA is handling its post-Sandy programs.

Another common denominator in the tales told by business owners and homeowners is lost paperwork when they applied for aid. Paperwork being lost four times seems to be the magic number, judging from testimony at recent hearings held by the state Department of Community Affairs, and the Main Street statements.

"It takes a couple of hours to fax all this stuff," recalled Gregg Ciafarone, whose restaurant Healthy and Delicious in the Silverton section of Toms River was hit by the storm weeks after opening. "I told them, 'If you guys don't want me to get this money, just tell me'."

EDA officials said Wednesday their latest numbers show $13.6 million in Stronger NJ Business Grants have gone to 281 business, out of $100 million in funding provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. There's also $100 million allocated for 24-month no interest loans; 14 businesses have taken loans totaling about $18.7 million.

The authority has been trying to speed up the approval processes by reducing the up-front requirements for documents from business owners, and speeding delivery by "targeting the expenses which can be processed for reimbursement most rapidly," said Virginia Pellerin, a spokeswoman for the EDA.

In recent weeks, Schlossbach finally got one grant for $50,000 to help pay for repairs to Langosta Lounge, her place on the Asbury Park boardwalk, according to EDA spokeswoman Virginia Pellerin. Another application for a grant to Labrador Lounge, a restaurant in Normandy Beach on the upper Barnegat peninsula, is still under review, Pellerin said.

In the meantime, Schlossbach said, she paid out around $100,000 in savings and borrowing to repair Langosta, and a $96,000 loan for a new roof on Labrador. It took seven months before they could start work on the Normandy Beach restaurant and business is still slow with the Route 35 rebuild and its traffic jams, she said.

With its ties to New Jersey Citizen Action, Main Street has supported liberal positions on issues of health care and the minimum wage, with support from 1,200 small business owners and entrepreneurs. With the mounting frustrations over the pace of rebuilding aid, the group's Wednesday statements had more of an edge.

"The money that's been released is much less than was advertise for the re-election of a governor, or president," Schlossbach said, referring to the $25 million post-Sandy tourism marketing campaign that prominently featured Gov. Chris Christie.

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