N.J.’s latest small business grant program may truly reach overlooked communities

There were a host of dignitaries in Long Branch on Thursday — a rare occasion on which both Gov. Phil Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver were at the same event. Getting aid to small businesses, especially those in underserved communities, is that important.

Murphy announced that $6 million in CARES Act funding is being allocated to a newly created Small Business Lease-Emergency Assistance Grant Program — one in which small businesses in 64 predetermined at-risk communities can get up to $10,000 for rent assistance.

It’s a credit to Murphy and his administration for finding another way to help the type of small business owner that may not have benefited from the federal Paycheck Protection Program for a variety of reasons, including a lack of proper paperwork or concerns over immigration status.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver speaks at the announcement as Gov. Phil Murphy looks on.

More than that, it’s a reminder of all the good work the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority has been doing under the longtime leadership of CEO Leslie Anderson.

Murphy noted Anderson and the NJRA had been coming to places such as Long Branch — places where traditional lenders do not go — for decades. The NJRA knows where the need is. And, with the NJRA taking one of the leading roles in the program, there is reason to believe that the relief will go where it’s desperately needed.

“This is targeted — and it’s going to drill down — to small business that need that level of support,” Anderson said.

The grants will be available to small businesses that have been adversely impacted by COVID-19 located in NJRA’s 64 eligible municipalities. It will provide grants to:

  • Tenants leasing commercial space in mixed-use buildings;
  • Tenants leasing space in commercial buildings;
  • Tenants leasing space to operate a storefront business.

The program will be targeted to businesses with 5,000 square feet of leased space or less. It is requiring standard debarment and legal qualifications from applying businesses.

The online application process will open Aug. 10. Funds will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. See www.njra.us for more details.

File photo
Leslie Anderson of the NJRA.

Anderson said the program will provide a lifeline to businesses her group has been helping for decades. A group that she knows better than anyone is in great need.

“Our small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy,” she said. “Without them, our economy will not rebound. As we look and move through the phases of reopening, it’s important our small businesses are able to continue to provide the products, services and the jobs.”

Anderson joked that her agency prefers loans — which, when paid back, it can pay forward to another business. She knows times are different now.

“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented responses,” she said. “This is a grant. There will be no obligation on the part of small business to repay it.”

Murphy said he is glad to be able to make this type of investment.

“People ask me all the time, give us an example of what you’d do if you got more federal cash: We’d do exactly more of what we’re doing,” he said. “In addition to a whole range of other stuff, we would plow an enormous amount of focus into our small business community.”

Anderson is thrilled that it’s in the state’s most vulnerable communities, places where her group usually works alone.

“We work in the state’s most economically challenged communities,” she said. “We go where most people don’t want to go.

“We use our resources to pick up some critically needed parcels so that developers could begin the projects. That’s what we do and that’s who we are.”

It’s all about making an impact, Anderson said.

This program, she said, can do just that.

“Right now, New Jersey’s small and microbusinesses, particularly those in economically challenged communities, are bearing the brunt of our nation’s health and economic crisis,” she said. “These businesses deliver value and stability to our state, and, yet, struggle to access capital.

“Today, we’re proud to be there with the governor to offer these businesses both rental relief grants and support accessing them.”

Read more from ROI-NJ on coronavirus: