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By KAITLYN MEADE
A new pilot program by FEMA would be the first by the federal agency to provide assistance for businesses from other businesses, agency representatives announced Wednesday night. However, it might be a longer time in coming than needed.
Nancy Koepke, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s intergovernmental affairs office, and Christina Long, the division supervisor for Division F and G (Manhattan and the Bronx) explained the new initiative at Community Board 1’s Executive Committee Feb. 20.
The plan is to build “long term recovery groups, specifically for businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy,” Long said. “As you know, some of the businesses have applied for S.B.A. [Small Business Administration loans] some of them could not take on the burden of taking an additional loan out, so what we’re trying to do is bring in corporations, private entities that are willing to help the businesses in Lower Manhattan come back to a whole state.”
For small business owners like Jacques Capsouto, owner of the Tribeca bistro Capsuoto Freres, grants, not loans, are necessary to their continued survival.
“I’m still not operating. I’m waiting for insurance money and the insurance is giving me a hard time. We have a loan from the S.B.A. from 9/11, so we’re not taking out another loan. We’re still paying them off,” Capsouto said. His 451 Washington St. business was submerged in five feet of water during Sandy and has not opened since then.
“It’s not going to be things that need to be paid back,” Long assured him. The money would come from donations from private entities as well as grants offered by various agencies — not federal money.
“This is all private industries that have come together that want to help. They’ve made donations and didn’t know where to actually put donations for businesses to come back. We get a lot of donations through voluntary agencies for individuals but this is the first time we’ve actually received donations for businesses to come back as well,” Long said.
The Neighborhood Task Force Initiative will work with businesses in the community to find seed or “cloud money” and to find grants. They will send out staff to meet with various business owners to assess their needs and put them in touch with resources. Long would like to see the initiative as a “one stop shop” for information. “So you the business owner don’t have to go fishing round from here to here and wasting time and getting frustrated.”
“That’s what we’ve been doing, and we haven’t caught a fish yet,” Capsuoto replied.
The problem is one of timing. At the moment, Long said that FEMA is in the development stages of the program, compiling resource lists and gathering task force teams.
When board Chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes asked about a definitive timeline, she was told that the program wouldn’t be made available to the public until about the second week of March. Each business would be processed separately after their application was submitted, which would take another 30-60 days.
“That’s great, but the main problem is what Jacques said already, that these businesses have already been out three and a half months and if it takes another three and a half months, they’re not coming back,” said board member Pat Moore.