The numbers surrounding the New Jersey 30-Day Fund started by former Gov. Chris Christie and his wife, Mary Pat Christie, have been impressive.
As of Sunday afternoon, the fund had more than 250 completed applications for its $3,000 forgivable loans — and had 650 more applications that were in the process of being completed. It also had donations from more than 100 people, adding to the $100,000 the Christies donated to start the fund.
More impressive may be this: The fund has more than 60 college students volunteering to help process applications and more.
Mary Pat Christie said she feels giving college students a chance to see how public service works — and how small business works — is a nice feature of the program.
“So many kids have had internships canceled,” she said. “We think it’s a great experience for them to see how all of this works first-hand.”
The former governor agreed. And, since the program is being run through his Christie Institute for Public Policy at Seton Hall University — and has drawn many Seton Hall Law students and business majors — the volunteers may be able to actually help those applying for the grants, he said.
“What we’re trying to do is to give them the experience of seeing what it’s like to start your own small business, to run your own business, to establish a payroll and be responsible for other people,” Christie said. “But, also remember, some of these folks are graduate business students and law students. We’re encouraging them to talk to these business owners if there are ways that they can give them advice or help from their extensive educational experience.
“So, I think it’s a win-win for everyone.”
The Christies talked with ROI-NJ during their round of media appearances Friday. Here is more from that conversation, edited for content and clarity:
ROI-NJ: We know the idea of a ’30-Day Fund’ follows a similar program started in Virginia by Pete and Burson Snyder. What is your connection to them? How did you hear about the program?
Mary Pat Christie: I got a call from my niece who lives in Virginia. She and her husband run a small marketing company and she was one of the first recipients of the $3,000 grant. They also were one of the first to repay the loan. So, that’s one of the hallmarks of the fund, that if you are an entrepreneur that gets back up on their feet and you want to pay the 3,000 loan back, we will pay it forward to another deserving small business. So, she called me and she said this was a really neat idea. It was unique, because there was no red tape. It was just a one-page application with a video that the proprietor takes.
ROI: An interesting feature of this program is that you encourage business to pay it forward — to pay back the loan if they are able to get back on their feet so others will have the same opportunity. That being said, we know you have had success getting others to donate to the fund’s nest egg. How are you going about that?
Chris Christie: We’re hoping that we get people that are willing to go online and contribute, but, also, May Pat and I will go back to our old network of folks were big supporters of ours during our eight years in the governorship and asked them to step up to help other New Jersey residents. So, we intend to try and do it both ways, both organically and through the website.
ROI: When you were governor, you were recognized for your red tape commission and championed the efforts of Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno to make things easier for small business in the state. This feels like an extension of that. Talk about your support of small business?
CC: We have 900,000 small businesses in New Jersey. They’re really the engine of our economy. And, so, they need to be helped as well as the big companies do. These folks, for them to work their way through the bureaucracy is often really intimidating and really difficult. They often just throw up their hands and give up.
We want to provide them with an opportunity to get a forgivable loan that can help them hopefully bridge a gap that they wouldn’t have cash for otherwise, so they will be able to get back on their feet. And we want to do it in a way that’s pretty simple: Make a video for us explaining your business and why you need the loan, and fill out the one-page application. We have an easy portal for them to do that on our website. And we promised them an answer, a yes or a no, within three days.
MP: I think it’s important to note that this is culturally in New Jersey — small businesses really are the lifeblood. Big companies are great, but I think that when you walk downtown in Morris Plains or in Mendham or Morristown, the small entrepreneurs are the ones that really give you the unique sense of New Jersey.
ROI: So, let’s go back to those volunteer interns. You’re pledging to give applicants an answer with three days — but doing it while you are attempting to raise more funds. How will this timing work?
CC: We will let them know that, if they are getting a ‘no’ because we don’t have enough funding at the moment, that they stay in queue. We will advise them that they are on a waiting list and we will fund them as more money becomes available.
ROI: Last question — because this calls into the nature of a 30-day fund, which is supposed to be short by definition. Are you going to be done in 30 days?
MPC: When Pete Snyder started this, he said he wanted it to be up and finished in 30 days. I really love that concept, but he quickly realized that there’ll be more and more people, and that 30 days just wasn’t enough. We see that, too, but we don’t expect it to be long-term. I would say three to six months.
CC: We want to try to address this immediate need, go at it as intensely as we can, bring a lot to bear in terms of our work and the work of the people who are interning with us, and get money out quickly. And, the more labor we bring to it, the more quickly we’ll be able to respond.