Niagara Gazette — If you have a relative or friend in the Hurricane Sandy-stricken area of New York City or New Jersey, it would only be natural to expect a phone call for one reason or another.
But imagine, if you were suddenly swamped with 2,200 phone calls per day from people trying to deal with their damaged businesses, demolished homes, flooded streets and extensive property losses.
William E. Leggiero Jr., director of the U.S. Small Business Disaster Assistance-Customer Service Office in downtown Buffalo, and his staff are braced for such an earful from distressed business people and home owners after Sandy slammed into the Jersey Shore, south of Atlantic City, N.J.
"We're preparing for a vast amount of calls from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut," Leggiero said, alluding to the three states that already have been declared disaster areas. Several other states including Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvaia, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Virginia are expected to be added to the list, he said.
The initial three states were automatically declared as disaster assistance-eligible based on the evidence at hand, the photos and other documentation quickly available by the conditions. The process for other states calls for each governor to contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency that will then make specific recommendations for the presidential declaration.
"We're geared up for those estimated 2,200 calls that could last for nearly 45 days," Leggiero added. He noted that, based on past performances, 80 percent of the anticipated calls come from homeowners and 20 percent from businesses.
People needing to start all over again — that total could be staggering — might be able to secure loans at 1.688 percent for up to 30 years. Eligible business owners might secure loans at 4 percent for the same timeframe. That could cover up to $2 million for the under-insured portion of the loss.
To handle the sharp increase in calls, Leggiero has recruited 25 reservists to boost the staff to 107. The new hires are guaranteed of $16 per hour, working six days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. They can expect to be employed for at least 90 days and possibly longer. People seeking additional information may call toll-free at 800-659-2955.
Most of the current work force is comprised of Erie and Niagara County residents.
Leggiero, a Lewiston resident, has been with the SBA agency for many years including when the regional headquarters was based at the former Occidental Chemical Co. (One Niagara), near the Rainbow Bridge.
• EQUAL TIME: Amy Hope Witryol, endorsed Democrat and Working Families Party candidate opposing state Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, in the 62nd District, must have winced Tuesday morning during the commercial break on the radio talk show "Viewpoint" (WJJL).
A 30-second campaign spot featured Nik Wallenda touting Maziarz for re-election and citing him for his behind-the-scenes role in securing permission for the tightrope artist to walk over the falls in June. It was said the event was worth millions of dollars in publicity for Niagara.
Obviously it wasn't the kind of message that Witryol was expecting as the guest on the show that day. Then just as the program resumed, Witryol skillfully made a smooth segue, reminding the listeners that Maziarz was the same person who had raised a ruckus in the city of Niagara Falls. Mayor Dyster had rightfully claimed that Wallenda had not paid the $25,000 for extra security and related costs as part his contract for the performance here.
Witryol questioned why Maziarz chose to grab headlines over that matter instead of trying to resolve it in a diplomatic manner. As she noted, the senator's approach to the issue, resulted in a flood of negative publicity for the falls with media on both sides of the border pouncing on the story.
"Viewpoint" host Tom Darro said that Maziarz had contracted for that campaign spot long before Witryol was scheduled to appear on the program.
• MONEY TALK: Overheard in Mom's Coffee Shop, Mil-Pine Plaza: "I can't stand economists. They're the experts who will always know tomorrow why the things they predicted yesterday didn't happen today" — a customer who continues to brag about his new license plate: "Tea Party."
Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246