NJ Governor Chris Christie (image by Andrew Burton/Getty)
Susanne Cervenka, The Asbury Park (N.J.) Press
SEA BRIGHT, N.J. -- Angler's Marina & Beach Boutique has been closed since superstorm Sandy struck in October, and owners Fred and Liz Leonardis are itching to reopen.
They said they were denied federal loans because with their business closed, they did not have the income to prove they could pay the loan back. And they need their business to reopen to make money.
"We want to open our business so we can pay our state and federal taxes," Liz Leonardis said.
It's a Catch-22, to which the solution may have been delivered by $1.8 billion in federal Sandy relief money, the first wave that was awarded to New Jersey Wednesday.
The federal dollars from the Community Development Block Grant program will largely be focused on homeowners and small businesses who want to rebuild, said U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who joined Gov. Chris Christie in a news conference Thursday at Sea Bright fire station.
The money would be available on top of federal assistance residents and businesses may have received.
"This money can help fill those gaps," he said.
Exact details of how much a resident or business could receive or how they could access those dollars weren't discussed during Thursday news conference. Many of those details will be included in a plan being developed by state officials, which will be approved by HUD.
In a video posted Wednesday to his official Twitter account, Christie said the funding for residents will be handed out through the state Department of Community Affairs. Money for small businesses would be administered by the Economic Development Authority.
Christie said in that video the dollars would be given out in grants, not loans.
Donovan said Thursday that he was given orders by President Barack Obama to not only distribute the money quickly, but also to cut through red tape that might impede rebuilding.
Information, for example, from businesses that were either denied for a loan by the Small Business Administration or decided they could not afford one would be passed along to state agencies distributing the money so owners don't have to resubmit it, he said.
Christie said this first round of funding won't be used to buy properties from owners who do not want to rebuild.
Christie said he will have those discussions with communities after they've had time to think about it with clearer heads.
Donovan said that buyouts only work when an entire neighborhood agrees to do so.
"Let's remember that there are a lot of options for rebuilding. Let's not lose sight that this is about rebuilding," he said. "Every dollar invested in mitigation means $4 saved later down the road."
HUD will set up a website similar to one for the 2009 stimulus dollars that allows residents to track how the relief dollars are spent, Donovan said.
Before Thursday's news conference Christie and Donovan toured Sea Bright's rebuilding efforts and stopped at Bain's Hardware, across the street from the fire station.
Bain's was one of the first places to reopen after the storm.
Frank Bain gauges where residents are in the rebuilding by the materials they buy from his store.
Sheetrock and Spackle are popular, but people are also starting to repaint.
"It takes time. It also takes money," he said. "Five dollars is a lot if you've only got $2."