Just as New Jersey businesses were coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, many suffered another damaging setback: the flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. State and federal officials vowed to create several rounds of relief to help alleviate some of the pain.
Government relief programs were “the only way we stayed in business,” said Diana Seiberg, one of the owners of the Manville-based furniture store R&D Seiberg. Her community was devastated by Ida and previous storms such as Hurricane Irene, which caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage to her operations. President Joe Biden visited Manville along with Gov. Phil Murphy to survey the extent of the damage to that community.
“I agree that it will make or break a lot of businesses,” Seiberg said, referring to the availability of assistance. R&D got $20,000 from the U.S. Small Business Administration in 1999 in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd but counted on flood insurance when Irene barreled through the area in 2011. Hurricane Sandy, with its high winds and horrific coastal flooding, had a far more muted impact on Manville, according to Seiberg.
The scope of funding is limited but slowly expanding. At the state level, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority is offering up $10 million for grants for businesses hit by Ida, and up to $500,000 for businesses recovering from Hurricane Henri, which struck the state in August. Grants are between $1,000 and $5,000 and are technically paid as August mortgage or rent to the business owner, which they could use to help recoup some of their costs from either storm.
Tim Sullivan, CEO of the NJEDA, said the agency anticipates that clean-up and equipment replacement would be most business owners’ primary concerns, and what they’d likely spend the grant money on. He noted that Ida was “the last thing small businesses need as they were beginning to stand up from the devastating gut punch that was — that is — COVID.”
During the NJEDA’s Sept. 8 board meeting, Sullivan said the goal was to open applications the following week and begin distributing funds in September. “Time is clearly of the essence and we are determined to get funds out to businesses and nonprofits as quickly as possible,” Murphy said in the NJEDA’s Sept. 8 statement.
Eligible applicants need to show the effects of the storms, such as flooding or exterior or interior damage, or business interruption suffered from the storm. Power outages alone will not suffice. Recipients must have been in business as of Aug. 1 and disclose any other sources of funding they have available for storm recovery, such as insurance or federal relief.
Help from D.C.
Businesses in any of the six New Jersey counties covered by the emergency declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency — Bergen, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Passaic and Somerset counties — are eligible for what’s known as disaster loan. That program is run by the U.S Small Business Administration and entails loans of up to $2 million to pay for storm-damaged property and machinery, equipment, inventory and any other physical damage caused by the storm.
State and local officials, and several of New Jersey’s congressional Democrats, have condemned the decision by FEMA, which as of Sept. 9, extended to just those six counties.
But according to State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan, FEMA and the state’s Office of Emergency Management recently toured Hudson, Essex and Union counties to gauge the necessity of expanding the FEMA disaster declaration. Officials in those counties argue that Ida wrought destruction from heavy floods to residents and businesses in their communities, hence the need for relief from the Biden administration.
According to Callahan, FEMA and state emergency officials also toured Burlington, Monmouth and Morris counties and visited Warren County. “We are not done,” Murphy said during his regular COVID-19 news briefing on Sept. 8. “We’re continuing to work with FEMA and county leaders across the state to expedite damage assessments and have those counties added to the major disaster declaration.”
Ida relief loans can be boosted by 20% to cover expenses for mitigating future floods and hazardous weather, such as through the installation of retaining walls, sump pumps and elevation. Terms run up to 30 years with interest rates starting at 2.855% for businesses and 2% for nonprofits.
Homeowners can borrow up to $200,000 for repairs, while renters can borrow up to $40,000 for property damaged by the storm, including furniture, cars, clothing and appliances. For both groups, interest rates start at 1.563%.
Businesses in those counties adjacent to the six disaster counties — Atlantic, Camden, Cumberland, Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Monmouth, Morris, Salem, Sussex, Union and Warren — are eligible for another set of loans, which also provide a considerable amount of financing for business owners recovering from a natural disaster. Economic Injury Disaster Loans, which offer loans of up to $2 million to handle financial obligations and other operating expenses at a time when business was disrupted due to a natural disaster. Loans last up to 30 years, and the interest rates are capped at 4%.
On Sept. 10, five additional New Jersey counties slammed by Ida received an emergency declaration from the Biden team, making them eligible for a slew of federal aid. Get the story.
“The SBA is strongly committed to providing New Jersey residents with the most effective response possible to assist businesses, homeowners and renters with federal disaster loans,” SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman said in a Sept. 7 statement. “Getting businesses and communities up and running after a disaster is our highest priority.”
Beyond the SBA, New Jersey’s Congressional delegation is asking Congress to set aside money for New Jersey homeowners and businesses, something done in the aftermath of Sandy which inflicted heavy damage to businesses along the Shore.
“New Jersey faces a long, difficult road to recovery from Tropical Storm Ida,” reads a Sept. 8 letter to the chair and vice chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations committees. The letter describes the FEMA emergency declaration as “essential first steps,” but continues that “an emergency supplemental funding bill is needed” for the Garden State’s recovery.
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