The Star-Ledger

Jersey Shore Merchants Criticize Chris Christie Over Remarks About Sandy Business Grant

The Star-Ledger — Tuesday, March 25, 2014

By Erin O'Neill / The Star-Ledger

BELMAR — Before Gov. Chris Christie kicked off a town hall in Belmar this morning, a group of business owners criticized the governor for remarks he made about a Hurricane Sandy grant program last week.

At a town hall in Flemington, Christie said the demand for state-run disaster relief programs for businesses was less than expected.

"We have not had the volume for the business grants ... that we thought we would have," he said.

New Jersey set up the Stronger NJ Business Grant Program and Stronger NJ Business Loan Program up with a portion of the roughly $1.83 billion in federal funding the state has received so far from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Christie said at the town hall meeting that both programs have had a lack of demand.

However, business owners said they want the grant money but have faced numerous obstacles in getting access to the funding.

According to New Jersey Main Street Alliance, a network of small businesses affiliated with New Jersey Citizen Action, roughly 3,300 small businesses requested more than $167 million in grants. As of Minday, the group said, the state had awarded $15.2 million to 314 businesses.

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority runs the Stronger NJ Business programs. Virginia Pellerin, a spokeswoman for the agency, said since Feb. 10, 78 business have been approved for grants. That represents 25 percent of the 315 grants approved since the program launched May 1.

"Due to changes we have made to the application and review process, we have seen a considerable uptick in approvals, and expect that trend to continue," she said.

Corinne Horowitz, a business representative with Main Street Alliance, said merchants have had their case managers changed multiple times and have had to resubmit paperwork again and again.

Ken Akerman, a 37-year-old business owner from Point Pleasant Beach, said he applied for the grant after his business, Ocean Towers & Welding, went underwater during Sandy.

"I haven't gotten anything yet," he said, adding that he doesn't know where his application stands.

"I have called so many times. I'm sure people have done a lot more than I have because I'm to the point where I'm like giving up," he said.

A group from New Jersey Citizen Action and New Jersey Working Families held up protest signs across the street from where the town hall meeting was being held in Belmar this morning.

The protesters said they were there to support the New Jersey Main Street Alliance and business owners.

One sign said, "If Springsteen were governor the Shore would be rebuilt by now."

Another said, "If I were a Sandy contractor, I'd have gotten paid by now."

The state received federal approval to move $160 million from its Sandy business grant program to an oversubscribed housing recovery program.

"This transfer was made based on the greater-than-expected need for housing support, and in no way detracts from our ability to provide support to every business that is eligible for the Stronger NJ Business Grant program," said Pellerin.

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