With the federal disaster application deadline extended to May 1, Superstorm Sandy victims are being encouraged to get on board with the U.S. Small Business Administration and apply for a low interest rate loan.

Dr. Barbara Barry, with the SBA, says you don't have to commit to the loan right away, all you have to do is apply.

Homes in Toms River damaged by Sandy (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

"We want to encourage people to have that safety net, and that's the only way we can help is in a low interest rate loan," says Barry.  After applicants get approved, they will receive a 6 month grace period to decide if they want to use the money or not.

The SBA has approved about $640 million for home and business owners in Ocean, Monmouth, and Atlantic counties, and they’ve only received back a fraction of the forms they distributed.

As a matter of fact, the rate of return on applications has been poor.  Over 175,000 applications were sent out and only 28,833 were returned.

"We know there are more that are out there that need the help, and we want to encourage them to return their completed application," says Barry.

Anyone who thinks it’s just as well to go straight to a lender without SBA involvement will not get the same rates or support.  Barry says SBA interest rates start as low as 1.66% for up to 30 years.   Home and business owners, as well as non-profits and renters, are eligible.

You can apply online at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela or call the SBA Customer Service line at 1-800-659-2955 to find the nearest loan outreach center near you.