SBA workshop helps residents

Receiving an eight-page loan application in the mail is one more thing to stress people out.

BY HEATHER MOYER | ORLANDO, Fla. | September 27, 2004

"We're really trying to collaborate as much as we can in this recovery."

—Grace Wilke

Life in Florida is fairly overwhelming for many residents right now, so receiving an eight-page loan application in the mail is one more thing to stress people out. Now two agencies are teaming up to help get residents the assistance they need.

The loan application from the Small Business Administration (SBA) is daunting at best. The forms come to hurricane-affected residents who register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The SBA offers phone assistance and face-to-face instruction for the forms if needed, yet many residents still express confusion about the forms.

FEMA and Lutheran Services Florida (LSF) recently joined forces to assist these confused residents by holding SBA loan application workshops.

According to Gary Kovar, LSF director of resource development, the SBA form asks for extensive personal information. But then in the first place, many residents do not even realize that they can receive assistance from the SBA, nor that they should fill it out in order to be eligible for other resources.

"The FEMA registration letter that accompanies the SBA Loan Application begins by stating something that implies 'since you have...' then there aren't any more benefits from FEMA," said Kovar in an email. "In the next paragraph it then says to be eligible for other benefits, you must complete the attached SBA Loan Application. What we're guessing is that many people who are struggling with recovery or rebuilding stop reading the letter at that point and don't realize they need to complete the application."

Kovar added that filling out the application does not mean residents have to take the loan, but that the SBA does offer renters and homeowners unsecured loans of up to $10,000.

Further, said Kovar, the SBA disaster loan program offers secured loans of up to $40,000 to renters and homeowners to repair or replace damaged personal property, including vehicles. Homeowners may be eligible to borrow up to $200,000 to repair or replace damaged real estate.

The FEMA and LSF workshops are meant to train volunteers who will then return to their churches and neighborhoods to help residents. The first workshop was held last Monday in Englewood. The second was Friday in Casselberry.

Grace Wilke, LSF's Orlando-area volunteer coordinator, hosted a recent workshop.

"We're really trying to collaborate as much as we can in this recovery," she said. "And when we saw that not many of these forms were being returned, we saw the need for these workshops."

Of major importance to these workshops is time, as federal assistance registration deadlines loom on the horizon. For those affected by Hurricane Charley, the deadline to register for assistance is Oct. 12. For survivors of Hurricane Frances, the date is Nov. 3. "We don't have a lot of time, so we're doing this as quickly as we can," explained Wilke.

Jack Cordill, a resident from Venice Beach, Fla., attended one of the workshops, and said he came away with much more knowledge about the process. "It was very well-organized and well-attended," he said. "They made sure we understood the deadline, too, which is the most important part."

Many affected by Hurricane Charley still have not registered, said Cordill, who took the training because, "I thought I oughta (sic) be doing more than I am." He added that he will help wherever needed.

"These folks are getting down to the wire," said Cordill of affected residents and the deadlines. "But (the involved agencies) are trying to make this process as easy as possible, which is good because folks as old as me are not always so adaptable to these situations."

LSF and FEMA are reaching out to make the workshops available to everyone they can. Wilke said she has been on the phone with churches across the region, encouraging them to bring their members in for training. So far, the response has been mixed.

"Some are more interested than others. Some are eager to help and train people in their own churches and neighborhoods. Others say their congregation had no damage, so they're not interested."

Yet Wilke is sticking with the cause. "We are looking for more interest in these workshops - time is running out."

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Related Links:

United States Small Business Administration

Lutheran Services Florida


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