Ocean County Freeholders support Grant Funding for Lease Assistance

OCEAN COUNTY is once again directing a portion of its share of Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) funding to small businesses that have been adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Small businesses are truly the heart and soul of our communities,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari, who serves as liaison to tourism and business development. “The Ocean County business community has been uniquely impacted by the pandemic since tourism and hospitality represent such a high percentage of its economic activity here.

“Our businesses were hit earliest and hardest by the pandemic,” he said. “Throughout the summer months our business owners found creative ways to keep their businesses open while keeping employees and the public safe.”

In order to provide some much-needed financial relief to small businesses having a hard time paying lease payments or their monthly rent payment, Ocean County is providing up to $10 million of its CARES Act funds to help with those costs.

“I am pleased Ocean County will partner with the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority (NJRA) to assist Ocean County businesses with rental assistance,” said Ocean County Freeholder John P. Kelly, liaison to the Ocean County Department of Finance. “To further help our small businesses, the County will provide grants up to $30,000 to help defray the cost of rent or leases.

“This is a grant and not a loan,” Kelly said. “The grant is paid directly to the landlord.”

The program would run to the end of the year.

The NJRA’s statewide business rental assistance grant program, which began earlier this year, resulted in some Ocean County businesses requesting assistance being wait listed.

The freeholders agreed to partner with the NJRA to administer the Small Business Lease Emergency Assistance Grant Program solely for Ocean County businesses in order to streamline the grant process.

The Board of Freeholders during its Oct. 21 meeting approved a resolution authorizing a memorandum of understanding with the NJRA to administer the program.

“The NJRA will provide the requisite staff and support required to implement the Small Business Lease Emergency Assistance Grant program,” Vicari said. “They have already established the specific guidelines on eligibility criteria and will advertise through their website and social media.”

Vicari added the County will also promote the program through its website and social media and also by contacting area chambers of commerce, business associations and its municipalities.

“It’s vital to our small businesses that they know about the help available to them,” Vicari said.

Unlike other areas of the state, many Ocean County small businesses rely heavily on the 12 prime weeks of the summer season for a major part of their income even though they may be open year-round.

“Those weeks were difficult as the state kept our restaurants closed until mid-June and then allowed only outdoor dining,” Vicari said. “Indoor dining only recently resumed but with very limited capacity.

Earlier this year, Ocean County had teamed up with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and provided small business grants up to $10,000 to more than 1,000 businesses in Ocean County. There are an additional 200 businesses awaiting final grant approval.

In Ocean County there are 3,000 eateries or restaurants alone that have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Steve Steiner, chairman of the Ocean County Tourism Advisory Council, recently told the Board of Freeholders that the County might see a loss of up to 30 percent of its restaurants before next summer due to the restrictions they are currently facing as a result of the pandemic.

“We need to take this action today in order to help our restaurants survive and once again flourish in the future,” Vicari said. “People don’t realize the importance our seasonal businesses have on our year-round economy providing employment opportunities, and drawing visitors to the County.

“Their economic health is the county’s economic health,” he said.