Back in Long Beach, a local surf organization, residents and business owners have put together Project Pay it Forward.

Launched earlier this month, the group, a combination of a so-called cash mob and do-gooder services, is aiming to get local businesses the help they need to reopen, while providing a boost in business. At its next event on Feb. 8, the group plans to help Seaside Celebrations, a children's party planning and child care business, finish the remodeling it needs and later in the day, hold a donation event at a restaurant and bar across the street (with free babysitting for parents at Seaside).

The Small Business Administration has approved a total of 16,192 disaster loans worth $1.1 billion to individuals and businesses suffering damage from Sandy in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, according to the latest figures.

To qualify for a disaster loan, the SBA reviews the applicant's repayment ability, credit and overall financial situation to make a decision on the loan approval. Businesses must show repayment ability to qualify for the disaster loan, and the business must be located in the county that was declared a federal disaster area, the SBA says.

But businesses say that's a Catch-22: in order to qualify for a loan, you have to have income, but how do you have income if your business was destroyed?

"The bottom line is to help as many business owners as possible with disaster loans so they can rebuild," spokeswoman Carol Chastang says.

She adds that the agency targets 21 business days from the time they receive a completed application to loan decision. Once the loan has closed, the borrower should get a check in five days. However, factors, including weather, incomplete applications and finding time for an appraiser to visit could lengthen that time frame, she adds.

"This was a massive storm that dealt a devastating blow not only in terms of physical losses, but economic injury as well. The population density of the affected areas is the main factor that made responding to this disaster such a challenge for local, state and federal agencies involved in emergency response and long-term recovery," Chastang says.

The deadline for applying for Small Business Administration disaster loans in New York has been extended to Feb. 27. New Jersey businesses have until March 1, while businesses in Connecticut have until Feb. 12.

Small businesses and non-profits in New York and New Jersey have until July 31 to apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans, the spokeswoman says.

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