Long Island business owners in areas hit hard by superstorm Sandy on Tuesday welcomed the state's proposal to make hundreds of millions in federal aid available to them in the form of grants. But speed will be key, they said.
The state's plan to distribute the initial installment of federal recovery funds sets aside $415 million toward business assistance, with Nassau County slated to receive $301 million and Suffolk County $104 million.
The proposal, which would also benefit businesses impacted by tropical storms Irene and Lee, allocates $233 million in small business grants, $20 million in grants to support the coastal fishing industry, and an additional $30 million in grants to help seasonal tourism businesses get back in operation for the summer season. The plan also provides for $130 million in low-interest small business loans.
The individual maximum grant amounts vary from $50,000 to $100,000, depending on the program.
"I think it's wonderful they are stepping up," said Ilona Jagnow, president of the Freeport Chamber of Commerce and the owner of a restaurant, retail shops and a mini golf course on Freeport's Nautical Mile. "If the grants are made available in a relatively short period of time, that would make such a difference."
State officials said they are doing everything possible to speed the release of aid. The state had 90 days to release a plan, but submitted it to the federal government's Department of Housing and Urban Development in a week. The agency has also said it will expedite its review of disaster plans.
Many of the affected businesses make a large portion of their annual revenues during the summer tourism season, which begins in May. Some have had to hold off on repairs as they wait for insurance payments and try to find other funding sources.
"We're holding off on a lot of stuff," said Jerry Bracco, who helps run his sons' seafood market, Capt. Ben's Fish Dock, and adjoining restaurant, Bracco's Clam & Oyster Bar. The store is open but the restaurant is not. Even with a grant from National Grid's Sandy Relief Program, the business could use another grant, he said. "We still have to put in the kitchen, do electrical work and do the sound system."
The availability of storm recovery funds in the form of grants is critical for many small business owners who say they can't afford to take out a loan and who have exhausted their own savings. Even those who had flood insurance are finding their policies only cover a fraction of the repair and replacement costs, they said.
"Some people were just making a living and surviving, and they may not have credit or they may not have a track record to get credit," said Michael J. Kerr, president of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce. "So if they can get grants, it would be the greatest thing that could happen."