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Finally, real relief for recovering small businesses

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Businesses, as well as residents, who suffered great losses as a result of Hurricane Sandy have been forced to wait far too long for relief, but when the news came down last week about how the Economic Development Authority would be doling out recovery funding, executives had to feel the wait was worthwhile.

The EDA, of course, had nothing to do with the delay, which was born of the partisan gridlock that has even managed to trump the nation’s response to one of the costliest natural disasters in its history. A $10.5 billion relief package was signed by President George Bush less than a week after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, but six months later, the federal response to Sandy is still slow in coming.

As we said earlier, though, the end result is one that business owners should be excited about. Those who were leery of taking on loans to finance their recoveries can take relief in the grants and no-interest loans that will be provided, and while the cap seems low — $50,000 for a business; $250,000 for businesses with multiple locations — the number comes from a survey conducted by the state that found two-thirds of companies reported damages at or below that threshold. The other pieces of good news: Speed — the EDA began accepting applications almost immediately — and the agency tapped Linda Kellner to run its recovery operations. Anyone familiar with the Business Action Center knows she’s a capable pro who will get the money to the right people in a hurry.

But for business owners to qualify, they have to prove they’ve gone through all the existing channels to get help, including registering with the U.S. Small Business Administration. That could be really bad news, because the SBA has been trying to get businesses to register with only limited success since the storm blew through the state. The deadline to do so has been pushed back so often and so forcibly that it had bruises on it when it finally expired for good last week. We can only hope businesses finally registered and did all their homework, because as slowly as this money was in coming, the one thing we’re sure of is that it’ll go fast, as it’s first come, first served.

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