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Sandy victims get another extension to register for federal aid

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Residents and business owners now have until May 1 to register for aid.
Residents and business owners now have until May 1 to register for aid. - (Aaron Houston / NJBIZ)

Once again, New Jersey residents and business owners have been given an extension to register for disaster assistance for damages incurred during Hurricane Sandy.

Those affected by the storm had been facing a March 1 deadline, but it has now been extended twice as the Small Business Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency work to get more people to apply for aid. The new deadline to register is May 1.

"We want to give ample opportunity for everyone to get the help they need, but I don't foresee any more extensions," said Tom Nocera, lead public affairs specialist for the SBA.

Homeowners, renters and businesses must first register with FEMA in order to obtain a grant or loan. FEMA can provide disaster assistance for families to be used for rent, essential home repairs, personal property losses and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance. The SBA offers low-interest and long-term home, business and economic injury disaster loans. Qualified applicants can also receive help refinancing their home or business.

"In order to get financing, you have to register," said Harry Menta, spokesman for the SBA's New Jersey district office. "People should apply. They don't have to take the loan, but they should at least get in the system, find out what's available from FEMA and how much they can borrow up to. It's not a cure-all, but it is effective."

Many people did not register in the initial weeks after the storm because they were in a state of shock or confusion, Nocera said.

"People were focused on where they were going to sleep, eat and shower," he said. "For some people, it takes a while to face the reality of the new normal."

Nocera said some people were waiting to apply until after they found out what their insurance companies would cover, but those companies have been slow to process claims due to the overwhelming scope of the disaster.

To date, the SBA said it has approved 10,539 loans in New Jersey, 9,515 of which were for homeowners and renters. The total amount of loans given to residents is $582.1 million, and $102.1 million in loans have been given to 1,024 businesses.

Nocera said Sandy is the third-largest disaster in the SBA's history, as far as the dollar amount distributed since the 1953 start of the agency's disaster loan program. Tops on the list are Hurricane Katrina, followed by the California earthquake in the 1990s.

As of April 1, FEMA approved $376.4 million in grants to more than 60,000 New Jersey residents. Also, $241.5 million has been approved in FEMA public assistance grants to communities and nonprofit organizations that serve the public.

"The magnitude of this disaster is something we've never seen here in New Jersey," Menta said. "There's a lot at stake. Tourism is one of the largest, if not the largest, source of income for the state. We realize it has to get back on track and we certainly want to do our part."

To register, visit www.disasterassistance.gov or call (800) 621-3362.

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