Check is not in the mail, merchants say


By Elizabeth O’Brien

Since March, Marion Dauphin has expected an infusion of cash from a federal grant program designed to help Downtown small businesses recover from Sept. 11, 2001. The state agency charged with administering the program had notified the antiques dealer that she qualified for a $4,600 grant, an amount she needed to help pay the rent on her Duane Street storefront. Threatened with eviction, Dauphin called the Empire State Development Corp. every month and was told she would have to wait.

“They’re still saying next month, next month,” Dauphin said. “Now they say August, and I’m sure they’ll say September.”

Dauphin, who owns Gallerie de France, has caught up with her rent payments. But her frustration remains. And she is not alone. As of late May, 1, 714 Downtown businesses were waiting for their first payments from the grant program, according to a Lower Manhattan Development Corp. document; another 452 companies that previously received partial grants were waiting for the remainder of their awards.

The World Trade Center Business Recovery Grant Program bases its cash awards on lost revenue and location within the eligible area south of 14th St. Businesses in the area bounded by Chambers and Rector Sts. to the north and south, and Broadway and the Hudson River to the east and west, are eligible for the maximum compensation of 25 days’ lost revenue.

The Empire State Development Corp. received a flood of applications in the days before the program’s Dec. 31, 2002 deadline. The amount of the approved requests exceeded the program’s $481 million allotment, with an additional $54.5 million needed to cover the difference.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency that provided the money, is currently evaluating the request for additional funding

“We’re trying to do everything in our power to expedite that,” said Adam Glantz, a spokesperson for the agency.

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler has called on HUD to release the additional funds immediately, saying in a prepared statement that the money has been caught up in a “bureaucratic morass.”

“This particular grant, it’s just outrageous, how it’s handled,” said Linda Rosenthal, a Nadler spokesperson. “There’s no sense of urgency and these businesses are languishing.”

Many business owners agree, including Ariel Goodman, owner of several financial services firms and co-founder of From the Ground Up, an organization of more than 600 small businesses located mainly south of Canal St. that was formed after the 9/11 attacks. Goodman said that she had not even received a letter notifying her that one of her firms, Investor Data Services, had been approved for a grant. Employees at the Empire State Development Corp. told Goodman when she called that she had been approved, she said. But without written notification of her approval, it’s harder for Goodman to lobby the agency for her payments.

“That’s the first I’ve heard of that claim,” said Alex Dudley, a spokesperson for the Empire State Development Corp., when asked about applicants waiting for letters.

Dudley said that staffers try not to tell applicants a specific time when they can expect their grant money, since the state agency does not control the release of the additional funds and is now dependent on the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We only give that date when pressed, because folks want an answer,” Dudley said.

Goodman, a former World Trade Center tenant, and others said that they are tired of sympathy and want results.

“People are really good at saying, ‘We really feel your pain,’” Goodman said.