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Locals to feds: Fund disaster grants for small businesses

Posted 12/9/19

Two state legislators and Oneida County’s top elected official are asking federal lawmakers to help create a grant program for small businesses hurt by natural disasters such as this fall’s …

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Locals to feds: Fund disaster grants for small businesses

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Two state legislators and Oneida County’s top elected official are asking federal lawmakers to help create a grant program for small businesses hurt by natural disasters such as this fall’s floods.

State Sen. Joseph A.Griffo, R-47, Rome; Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-119, Marcy; and Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr., are asking both of New York’s U.S. senators and the area’s member of Congress to work toward creating a small business disaster grant program. They cite the federal Emergency Management Agency’s estimates that 40 to 60% of small businesses never re-open after a disaster, and estimates by the Small Business Administration that 90% of businesses fail within two years after being struck by a disaster.

They made their case in a letter sent jointly to Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Rep. Anthony J. Brindisi, D-22, Utica, on Tuesday.

“While residents, nonprofit organizations, and state and local governments are among those eligible for disaster grants, small businesses are questionably excluded,” the letter said.

The U.S. Small Business Administration offers low-interest loans for disaster-affected businesses, but the contention is those are often not viable for small businesses. Some grants for disaster-affected small businesses have on occasion been part of community development block grants, but they have been small and limited in scope.

Buttenschon’s office has been contacted by some businesses who had made improvements because of previous floods only to be devastated by the floods of Oct. 31 and Nov 1. Up to 5 inches of rain fell in a matter of hours in parts of the Mohawk Valley that night and morning. In Oneida County, some of the worst damage was in and around Whitesboro, where Sauquoit Creek, which drains much of the southern part of the county, meets the Mohawk River.

Legislation to set up such a program was introduced in 2008 and again in 2017 to help recovery from Hurricane Harvey, but neither bill advanced in Congress.

“For the most part, the federal government’s policy for providing disaster assistance to small businesses has been limited to low interest loans,” Griffo, Buttenschon and Picente said in their letter to federal lawmakers. “The creation of a Small Business Disaster Grant Program would remove the disparity faced by small businesses which often have limited resources to deal with disasters. It would also make federal disaster policy more uniform across all sectors.”

Brindisi said he is open to the idea.

“Right now, I am focused on working with members of both parties and the rest of the Upstate federal delegation to get FEMA dollars for these communities,” he said in a statement. “I am open to anything that will help make these families and businesses whole and protect our communities from future flooding. Getting the president to recognize the Governor’s request for a disaster declaration is an important first step in this process.”

Brindisi has already weighed in on seeking disaster aid, joining a letter to President Donald Trump from most of the upstate Congressional delegation and both senators urging a disaster declaration. He also wrote a joint letter, dated Nov. 7, with Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, R-21, to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging the state to quickly conduct a damage assessment in order to seek federal disaster aid through FEMA.

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