After Sandy, Few Small Businesses Taking Advantage of Emergency Loans

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The Bloomberg administration estimates that 13,000 businesses in New York City were damaged during Sandy, but more than two months after the storm only a few hundred have been approved for emergency loans.

"In some cases, small businesses don't want to stretch themselves any further by taking a loan," said Rob Walsh, commissioner of the city's Department of Small Business Services. 

The agency has approved 224 applications for its loans where business owners borrow up to $25,000, pay no interest for six months, then just one percent for two years.

The U.S. Small Business Administration, which administers the federal program, has so far approved just 164 applications. That program offers 30-year loans of up to $2 million at 4 percent interest. 

According the city department and the SBA, there are a slew of reasons why so few loans have been approved. Some of the hardest-hit businesses have yet to apply for loans, and for those that have, the process takes time.

While the city has disbursed money in as little as a few days, 500 applications are in limbo because businesses lost necessary documents in the storm. At the federal level, there is a large backlog that is adding days to the application review process. 

"Our goal is 18 days, but it can take longer than that," said SBA spokesman Jack Camp. 

The low number of applications is not limited to the city or SBA loans. 

In New Jersey, the Hudson County Economic Development Corporation has received about 30 "calls of curiosity" from small businesses interested in its Sandy loan program, which offers borrowers $10,000 to $25,000 at two percent interest over three years. 

HCEDC has enough money for about 30 loans, but the calls have yielded only one application. According to executive director Bette Spinelli, small businesses are already operating on such tight margins, that even low-interest loans cannot entice them. 

"It's like your own budget within your home," she said. "You're not going to go out and buy a Maserati when you can only afford a small economy car."