Small-business owners who suffered damage or have lost customers due to Hurricane Sandy are eligible for disaster aid loans, but numbers released through the U.S. Small Business Administration show that few businesses are filing for help.

And if those businesses want to be eligible for grants that come from the $60 billion federal disaster aid package, they may be required to apply first for help through the SBA to show their needs.

As of Friday, the SBA has disbursed about $100 million in low-interest loans to businesses statewide, said spokeswoman Karen Knapik. That amount, Knapik said, indicates that businesses that suffered damage are not applying for help or don’t know what options are out there.

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SBA low-interest loans are meant for repairing buildings or damaged equipment, but also to keep the business running, Knapik said. “We feel like we haven’t gotten enough of these businesses who need this working capital,” she said.

Businesses across the state suffered damage of nearly $1.9 billion, according to the Department of Community Affairs’ plan for how it intends to spend $1.8 billion in federal disaster aid. But only $145 million of that damage total has been reimbursed through various programs, according to the DCA plan.

Among the most affected industries, according to the report, were fishing and aquaculture, and tourism.

The federal government did declare a fisheries disaster due to Sandy, but the $60 billion federal aid package approved by Congress in January included only $5 million in aid marked for fisheries. Last week, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-6th, along with U.S. Rep. John Runyan, R-3rd, introduced legislation to provide $193 million in aid to the fishing industry.

There are options for businesses that suffered damage or are still struggling, but unlike for homeowners, the aid currently is through loans that have to be repaid.

The state, in its spending plan still awaiting approval by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, proposes using as much as $300 million in small grants or forgivable loans to small businesses and nonprofit organizations that suffered damage of at least $5,000.

But in order to be eligible for some of the proposed grant programs, according to the plan, businesses may have to already have applied for SBA disaster relief loans. The deadline to apply is May 1.

New Jersey has several state-run options to help businesses that are either loan-based or low-interest lines of credit.

Three programs, run through the state’s Economic Development Authority, help business owners with secured lines of credit, low-interest loans and microloans, said spokeswoman Rachel Hartman.

The Main Street Disaster Relief Program is designed to help businesses fix property while waiting for insurance reimbursement, The program uses EDA guarantees of as much as $500,000 for commercial lines of credit to help businesses access cash, Hartman said.

Last week the state announced a low-interest microloan program that would be administered through the New Brunswick-based Intersect Fund. Capital One Bank will provide $150,000 to the fund, which is marked to help small businesses with an average loan size of $2,400, according to Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno’s office.

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