A group of small business owners are claiming the state is mishandling Sandy relief grants by only awarding a fraction of the money.

Hurricane Sandy damage
Gary Williams, Getty Images /NOAA/Carlo Allegri, Getty Images

New Jersey Citizen Action said Wednesday that roughly only 7 percent of the applications for Stronger NJ Grants have been awarded, leaving over $80 million of the original $100 million set aside for the program waiting to be doled out.

During a conference call organized by Main Street Alliance, a part of the Citizen Action Network, business owners complained about the runaround they've experienced.

"If I could get a federal loan from the government in half the time it takes to get a fraction of the amount from the state, I'm very concerned about how this is operating," said Marilyn Schlossbach, who owns Pop's Garage, Labrador Lounge, Langosta Lounge and Dauphin Grille.

In calling for the remaining grants to be released by May 1, the Main Street Alliance claims the state Economic Development Authority has only approved $12.5 million in grants for small businesses, though in a separate conference call EDA President and COO Timothy Lizura said $13.6 million has been approved.

Lizura said he's interested in getting people the money as quickly as possible, but that the state can only distribute grants as fast as applications are approved. And since documents have to be submitted according to HUD requirements or they can't move forward, frequent errors can delay applications.

"It really is a program where you have to meet the basic eligibility and demonstrate that this tax revenue is being used fiduciarily responsibly as a means of last resort," Lizura said.

According to the EDA, 281 people have gotten grants. There are about 3,300 open applications.

Numerous businesses have also complained about hitting walls during the application process and having to resubmit paperwork multiple times. Lizura said while they had some issues initially with staffing, they have since improved.

"We've actually gone now to a team approach, so we have at least two people assigned to every account," Lizura said, "so if there is a transition, there is someone always familiar with the account."

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