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SBA says it will 'remain committed' to Sandy victims after tongue-lashing from Christie

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Governor Chris Christie and Al Titone of the SBA in N.J.
Governor Chris Christie and Al Titone of the SBA in N.J.

The business community in New Jersey has always enjoyed a positive relationship with Gov. Chris Christie.

So it might have turned some heads Wednesday when, during a tour of businesses in Sea Bright, the governor castigated a national advocacy group for small companies, calling the Small Business Administration's response to Hurricane Sandy "a disaster."

According to a published report, Christie said the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be sent "to the Small Business Administration, to clean up after the disaster that is the Small Business Administration and what they did to small business."

The report appeared in today's The Star-Ledger.

Al Titone, director for the SBA's New Jersey district, did not respond to a call requesting comment today, instead forwarding the request to the agency's press secretary, Emily Cain.

"As part of a coordinated federal response, SBA was on the ground immediately following Hurricane Sandy to help those affected by the storm recover, rebuild and get back on their feet," Cain said in a statement. "We remain committed to helping those individuals and communities affected by Hurricane Sandy rebuild stronger and to providing support for long-term recovery."

Cain said the SBA approved 12,450 loans for New Jersey residents and businesses in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. In total, those loans amounted to more than $820 million.

Laurie Ehlbeck, New Jersey state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said she has not fielded complaints about the SBA's post-Sandy performance.

"I know the governor's looking at it from his perspective, and I'm sure there are a lot of people who have concerns. But I haven't heard any of those stories," Ehlbeck said.

Ehlbeck said the SBA's complex application process is not a new complaint. After Sandy hit, some business owners told her they chose not fill out SBA loan paperwork because the process seemed too tedious. Others said they were disappointed that the loans being offered through the SBA were short-term bridge loans, rather than longer-term options. But for the NFIB, those issues did not amount to the biggest post-Sandy problem.

"Our concern and our criticism all along is that people get conflicting information from different offices, different people, and they're not sure what they should do, what they're eligible for," Ehlbeck said. "They don't hear anything, so they don't know where they stand."

As the state tries to prepare itself for the next major weather event, Ehlbeck said she would like to see the formation of a centralized location where people can go for quick, accurate information about the available resources. Ehlbeck said she lost her home to Hurricane Sandy, and often, vital information would come to her from the person standing in line behind her at Wawa, rather than a government agency.

"It was very frustrating and confusing, so as a business, they're looking at the same thing," Ehlbeck said.

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